UNION — The debt America owes its veterans including a very special group of veterans and the meaning of Veterans Day were all part of the Union County Veterans Day Program Friday morning.
As in year’s past, Friday’s Veterans Day Program was preceded by the Veterans Day Parade which proceeded from the Union County Courthouse to the Veterans Memorial which honors the county’s war dead from World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War. The program feature patriotic music, recognition of the county’s veterans from different eras of service, recognition of the Gold Star Mothers and the Blue Star Families, the placing of a wreath at the Veterans Memorial and the playing of Taps in memory of those veterans whose names are on the memorial and their brothers and sisters in arms who have died over the past year.
While there was no formal program with a special guest speaker as in previous years, there were several speakers nevertheless, including Union County Veterans Affairs Officer Cindy Fore who spoke about impact veterans have had on America and what the nation owes them.
“There is no institution on earth that commands such unwavering respect as the United States military,” Fore said. “You have shaped the lives of all of us through the wisdom, kindness, and awe-inspiring dignity that form the blood of this nation. The courage and strength that you exude are qualities which deserve only our highest gratitude.
“I would like to thank all of you for the service you have given our country and thank you to those who continue to serve,” she said. “We cannot thank you enough for putting your lives at stake to protect the freedoms we hold so dearly.”
Fore pointed to a quote she recently heard that she said sums up what veterans have done for America and the great debt the nation owes them.
“Our flag still waves because you never wavered,” she said.
During Friday’s ceremony all of Union County’s veterans were recognized, but there was special recognition for some very special veterans: Union County’s living World War II veterans ages 90 and older. Fore said that her office had been able to identify and contact 21 World War II veterans whose ages ranged from 90 to 96. Those veterans were given special reserved seating near the foot of the stage and were presented with certificates and gifts in of their service and years.
“At this time, we would like give special honor to these veterans sitting here today,” Fore said. “They are veterans of World War II and have been called ‘The Greatest Generation.’ Today we honor them for their service and their longevity. These 21 veterans are 90 years of age and older, with our oldest veterans being 96.
“It is with honor and gratitude that we say ‘Thank you for your service,” she said. “The Veterans Day Event Committee would like present each of you with a token of our respect and gratefulness.”
The veterans that were present or the family members representing those who were unable to attend were then presented with the certificates and gifts.
These are the 21 World War II veterans honored during Friday’s ceremony along branch of the armed forces they served in and their age:
• Bill Wingo —Merchant Marines/Army — 90
• Stoney Keith — Army Air Force — 90
• Harvey Belue —Marines — 90
• Glenn Caldwell — Navy — 90
• Jackson Rash — Army — 90
• George Hurst — Army —90
• Sam Bobo — Army — 90
• Richard A. “Dick” Stalnaker — Army — 90
• Henry Vaughan — 90
• Frank M. Hart — Navy — 91
• Bill Littlejohn — Army — 92
• Anna L. Tipton — WAC — 93
• William G. Kell — Army — 93
• James C. Vaughan — Army — 93
• Marion L. Byrd — Army — 93
• Charles JD Gaines — Air Force — 94
• Leonard H. Tipton — Army — 95
• Billy Kelly — Army — 95
• Hammie M. Johnson — Navy — 95
• James Littlejohn — Air Force — 96
• Vivian M. Johnson-Bradburn — WAC — 96
While most of the veterans receiving the special honors were sitting in the reserve seats at the foot of the stage, one, Marion L. Byrd, was on the stage and he addressed the crowd about his experiences during World War II and what the Union County Veterans Day program means to him.
Byrd said that he was 19 when he went into the Army in 1943 and during the next two years would fight in five battles, serving in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany, going to the Elbe River, the farthest east in Europe American forces were permitted to go during the war. Discharged from military service in November 1945, Byrd said that when he returned to America, the first meal he and his fellow returning soldiers were given was a steak dinner, something he said he greatly enjoyed, even though he was eating it at 1 a.m. in the morning. Something he enjoyed even more was simply being back in America.
“It was good to put your feet back on American soil after 28 months overseas,” Byrd said.
As for what Veterans Day means to him, Byrd said that looking at all those who were present for the Veterans Day Program made him feel like “it was worthwhile. This is a very appreciative crowd. Thank you for being here.”
Byrd also had a special message for his fellow veterans.
“Thank you and God bless you.”
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.