Seated quietly in the audience, not drawing attention to themselves save for standing – stoically, heroically – when their branch song was played, Morgan County's veterans were honored Thursday, Veterans Day, in a ceremony held in the high school's gymnasium.
Quietly, humbly, they were honored. Flags were posted, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, the National Anthem played by the band, and "God Bless America" sung by the chorus. A group of dancers even performed.
A long, long way from any battlefield.
Now removed from the days of their military service, the effects of their service – and the service of all of the men and women who've been a part of the U.S. Armed Forces – is still tangible, a fact that Morgan County High School graduate and Air National Guard 1st Lt. Michael Launius (soon-to-be Capt. Michael Launius, according to Jim NeSmith, commander of Calvin George, Post 37 of the American Legion and emcee of the event) pointed out in his address to the crowd of veterans, students, members of the local government and law enforcement and county residents gathered.
"Our flag flies freely [because of Armed Servicemen and women]," Launius said.
He recounted his service thus far: stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, Launius was responsible for flight missions to, among other things, "drop much-needed food and supplies to troops" and pick up the wounded and dying.
"[I am] proud to serve my country..." Launius said, urging those present to "live in such a way to make your community and the United States of America a better place to live."
"There is an importance, a gratification that comes from giving back to your family, your community, your country," he said.
Major Robert Atkins, of the high school's AFJROTC program, also addressed the crowd, explaining the origins of Veterans Day – it was started in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson as "Armistice Day," commemorating the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I (on the 11th hour of the 11th month on the 11th day), but was declared "Veterans Day," in an effort to honor all America's veterans, by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954 – that it was meant to honor "all [who] share that Oath [of Enlistment]."
Recounting his service – he's been in three of the nine major conflicts since the Civil War, he said – Atkins joined the Air Force at the age of 17 "to get out of the house." He enlisted during the Cold War, participated in Operation Desert Storm in the early '90s and, most recently, participated in Operating Enduring Freedom.
He described this most recent enemy as nothing like the military had fought before: "We didn't recognize the new enemy. They didn't wear a uniform. ... They don't fight fairly."
Having already completed service in the military, Atkins understands what veterans represent.
"We owe them a debt of honor today for securing freedom for your generation, my generation," he said, and challenged the audience to "consider your freedoms" and "contemplate the cost."
Finally, appropriately reserved for the conclusion of the ceremony, there was a Moment of Silence, the placing of a wreath and the playing of "Taps" to honor those servicemen and women who've paid the ultimate price.
Printed in the 11-18-10 edition