By Mary-Justine Lanyon
“Look around you – what you see is America.”
That is how Joe Aquino, the commander of VFW Post 9624, began his opening prayer at the Veterans Day observance at Arrowhead Ridge on Nov. 11.
The U.S. Army Vietnam veteran said that, for America, “Vietnam was the 6 o’clock news. You served pizza – we served our country.”
Gloria Loring, the mistress of ceremonies, told the large audience that it was “an honor and a privilege to be here and recognize our men and women in service.”
After the Mountain Fifes & Drums played several 18th-century pieces of music, the colors were raised at the veterans monument. As each pair of veterans or their representatives lowered the flags that had been flying, they removed those flags for retirement and raised a new flag. Nick Nerio, commander of American Legion Post 360, said that Army veteran Larry Philippi will be retiring the flags.
It was especially moving that Ron Butler – whose father was a POW – and Richard Jellerson raised the POW/MIA flag. Jellerson’s film A Solemn Promise tells the story of the people who are committed to bringing every person declared missing home to their families.
Following the pledge of allegiance, led by Dr. Ginger Gabriel, and the singing of the national anthem by the choir from Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Gary Tompkins gave the keynote address, “The Draft and Veterans.” Tompkins, who achieve the rank of colonel in the Air Force, served as a fighter pilot in Vietnam. He went on to teach at the Air Force Academy and, after moving to the mountain, taught history and government at Rim of the World High School.
There are, Tompkins noted, 16.5 million veterans alive in the U.S. today. “Over half of us are over 65,” he added. On this Veterans Day, he asked that everyone remember the 1,300,000 who died in the six major wars in U.S. history. Of those, half – 620,000 – died in the Civil War.
Tompkins is pleased that today’s veterans are thanked for their service in a way he and his fellow Vietnam veterans were not. “Wearing your uniform was not a good idea then,” he said.
He offered some things to think about in what he called these turbulent times. “There is,” Tompkins said, “a loss of respect for and love of country and all it stands for.” There is also, he added, a loss of “willingness to defend her.” The draft, he said, “could be needed and soon.” This year there was a 28-percent drop in applications to the Air Force Academy. All the service branches, except for the Marine Corps, missed their recruiting goals.
Following the choir’s singing of “God Bless America – during which Director Bob Scholz invited the audience to sing along – Laura McBride of the VFW Post 9624 Auxiliary introduced the winners of the Post’s Patriot’s Pen essay contest. The contest, she said, is open to middle school students. This year’s theme was “How Are You Inspired by America?”
Second place and $75 was awarded to Lillian Cornejo. First place and $100 went to Jack Lindeman, who read his essay to the audience.
“I value freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” Jack read. “I hope to join the men and women to help defend these freedoms.
“I can practice my religion without fear of persecution. I am able to speak my mind openly without fear of being put in jail. I believe we should defend these freedoms. I come from a long line of family members who have served. They all put their country before themselves. I want to follow in their footsteps.”
Dr. Ginger Gabriel, with the help of three other quilters, then presented Quilts of Valor to five veterans: John Coumans, Army; Dick Martin, Navy; Mike Ceniceros, Army; Gary Batten, Marine Corps; and David Grimshaw, Marine Corps.
“When we wrap their quilts around them,” Gabriel said, “we say we are giving them a quilt hug and thank them for their service.”
The observance ended with the singing of a medley of all the Armed Forces songs. As each song was sung, the veterans from that branch stood to be recognized.
Coast Guard veteran Earl Eide then gave the benediction, followed by the playing of Taps by Navy veteran Lou Novins.