Ceremony honors veterans' sacrifices

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Veteran Bill Kline renders honors during the singing of the National Anthem.

A solemn chime from the bell broke the silence as it heralded the start of the yearly ceremony. In a symbolic gesture, the bell was struck 11 times.

The number had to be specific for it noted...

The eleventh hour...

Members of the American Legion Honor Guard stand in formation as volunteers display flags representing each of the nation's 50 states as well as each branch of the U.S. armed forces.

On the eleventh day...

Of the eleventh month...

As the bell's last chime faded, a stiff wind blew across the cemetery, causing dozens of flags to flap in the air. The breeze created a noticeable chill in the morning air, but it didn't seem to bother the hundreds of people who stood in silence as the tradition continued.

The gathering included people from all walks of life, from veterans of previous wars to those in uniform who continue to stand in harm's way. They were there to honor those who serve their nation as part of this year's Veterans Day ceremony.

Held at the Mountain View Cemetery, the observance traces its origins to 1919, just one year after the end of World War I. The armistice ending that war went into effect at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. It ended four years of a global conflict once described as "the war to end all wars."

"Many Americans mistakenly believe that Veterans Day is the day Americans set aside to honor American military personnel who died fighting for their country," said Jack Schafhausen, commander of American Legion Post 26 in Mountain Home. "That's not quite true... Veterans Day honors all American veterans, both living and departed."

In fact, this annual observance is largely intended to thank living veterans for their dedicated and loyal service to their nation, Schafhausen added. It's the one day each year that "we ensure veterans know that we deeply appreciate the sacrifices they have made in their lives to keep our country free."

This yearly celebration honors all American veterans "for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good," said Col. Chris Short, commander of the 366th Fighter Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base. It also marks a time for reflection and remembering.

"Our military fights proudly, but we know the cost," said Short, who served as the guest speaker at this year's observance. "We owe our brave warriors nothing less than to remember and to give thanks for all they have done to keep the great nation free and for all they have done on our behalf."

This year's observance marks a bittersweet moment in the history of the armed forces, according to the colonel, whose family's military heritage spans three generations. He emphasized that members of the U.S. military including those at the nearby base, have remained at a constant state of combat for more than 11 years.

Over the years, members of the of the units stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base have deployed to combat zones around the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. In addition to providing combat power in the air and on the ground, these men and women have provided a full spectrum of support ranging from airborne surveillance to humanitarian relief, Short said.

"While our operations tempo is high, our nation's airmen continue to set the standard for excellence," the colonel added. "We are continuously reminded of the courage, commitment and sacrifice that our airmen offer on a daily basis."

These airmen will continue to answer the nation's call to duty, he said.

During his comments at Sunday's ceremony, the colonel also highlighted the nation's growing appreciation of those who serve in the military. He emphasized that those who serve today are encouraged to wear their uniforms when they travel, "often gaining unsolicited thanks" and gratitude from those they meet.

That attitude is far different from the days of the Vietnam War when the public lashed out at those who served in the military, the colonel said. In those days, service members were discouraged from wearing their uniforms in public and often concealed their military service from others, he added.

"Our nation has learned from that conflict, and those currently serving reap that benefit," Short said. "It is especially important to recognize those veterans that served so admirably yet never received the positive support and gratitude that our current servicemen have become accustomed."

In his closing comments, he asked those at the ceremony to salute the nation's veterans "on behalf of a grateful nation."

Others speaking at Sunday's event included Gina Harris, a retired Air Force veteran and member of the American Legion. She reflected on the accomplishments of noteworthy female veterans who served their nation in the line of duty.

Among them was Lucy Brewer, who some argue was the nation's first female Marine. Going by the name of George Baker to hide her gender, she served onboard the USS Constitution during the War of 1812. She served nearly 100 years before the Marine Corps began to admit women into its ranks, Harris said.

Another veteran Harris singled out was Sarah Borginis, who enlisted with her husband in the 8th Cavalry under Gen. Zachary Taylor. When the Mexican army attacked Fort Bliss, Texas, in May 1846, she fought alongside her fellow soldiers. Borginis would go on to earn the rank of colonel and became the only woman to receive a full military funeral at Fort Yuma in 1866.

Following Harris' comments, representatives from various veterans organizations stepped forward to place wreaths in honor of those who serve in uniform. Among them were members of the local Gold Star Mothers, all of whom lost sons and daughters in service to their nation.

One by one, more people stepped forward to repeat the process. Each time, these representatives paused to render honors. Some saluted the wreaths. Others held their hand over their heart.

Following a final prayer for those in uniform, members of the American Legion Honor Guard presented final honors to local veterans in the form of a 21-gun salute. As the last shots rang out, the sounds of Taps echoed across the cemetery.

No one spoke a word.