VINTON–The Roanoke Valley Veterans Council honored those who have served in the armed forces at their annual Veterans Day Ceremony at the Vinton War Memorial on Nov. 8.
Kroger provided a buffet for the veterans and their guests beginning at noon. Pianist and vocalist Melissa McSherry and vocalist Anna McSherry both performed during the luncheon.
The William Byrd High School JROTC Color Guard opened the formal ceremony by presenting the colors. Crystal LaBrie awed the packed ballroom with her rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
Reverend Morris Bennett of Andrew Chapel United Methodist Church in Buchanan offered the invocation, the Prayer for Peace, and the benediction.
Lt. Col. Dan Karnes, U.S. Army (Ret), who is president of the Roanoke Valley Veterans Council, served as Master of Ceremonies, for this 54th annual observance
He introduced the keynote speaker, Captain Gary Powers, U.S. Navy (Ret).
Powers is a native of the Roanoke area, graduating from William Byrd High School in 1969. He comes from a military family—his father served in both World War II and Korea.
Powers graduated from Parks College of Aeronautical Technology of St. Louis University with a degree in Aircraft Engineering. He went on to earn his Master’s in aeronautics from Embry-Riddle University. In 1972 he entered the Navy’s Reserve Officer Candidate Program. After a break in service, he affiliated with the Naval Reserve Intelligence Program as an Intelligence Specialist. He served as an intelligence analyst with various organizations over the years. He retired in 2013 after 35 years of military service, concluding his career as Deputy Commander Joint Analysis Center at RAF Molesworth, UK. He also retired in 2013 from 26 years of U.S. government civil service.
He described veterans as “ordinary people called upon to serve in extraordinary ways,” who “wrote a blank check to the United States up to and including their lives.” He said that all that veterans have asked for in return is respect from their countrymen and that they deserve to be honored everyday of the year, not just on Veterans Day.
He quoted statistics that show while there are currently about 320 million Americans, only 1.3 million are on active duty with another one million in the reserves.
“Not everybody has ‘the stuff’ to serve,” said Powers. “Without vets America would not be America.”
Powers pointed out that veterans sacrifice by being separated from their families, missing the births of their children, while frequently enduring unimaginable mental anguish and physical injuries in conflict.
Their families sacrifice equally with the separations, with one parent assuming the majority of parental responsibility, with relocations, while living with the uncertainty of whether their family member will return in good health or at all.
Powers said that President Dwight Eisenhower often said that he was prouder of being a veteran than of serving as president.
He told stories of World War II veterans who, like all veterans, “displayed the common virtue of uncommon valor.” One was Jack Mathis who was mortally wounded in 1943 flying missions as a bombardier on a B-17. Although severely wounded, he propped himself up over the bombsight, located the target, and dropped his bombs with great precision, posthumously earning the Medal of Honor. His brother was on base when the plane returned carrying Jack’s body. He requested transfer to his brother’s crew and was unfortunately killed in battle himself that same year.
Powers told the audience that the nation is “blessed with everyday heroes not just today but everyday” and read the poem “It is the Veteran” which says that “it is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion; the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press, the veteran not the poet who has given us freedom of speech, the veteran not the lawyer who has given us the right to a fair trial, the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.”
He also read from the Lawrence Vaincourt poem, “A Soldier Died Today.”
“He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife, for he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life, held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way, and the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today–the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife, goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Col. John Miller from the Association of the United States Army led the special presentation of commemorative pins to Vietnam veterans who served from November 1, 1955 through May 15, 1975, as part of the Commemorative Partner Program which recognizes the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The backs of the pins are engraved with “A grateful nation thanks and honors you.”
Four municipalities in the Roanoke area, including the Town of Vinton, Roanoke and Salem cities, and Roanoke County, along with the Stonewall Jackson Chapter of the Association of the US Army (AUSA) are Commemorative Partners in the program. They have also sponsored an art exhibit of scenes from the Vietnam War at Hollins University this year and a visit from the Vietnam Memorial Wall to the VA. The traveling wall was visited by over 8,000 people in Salem.
Karnes thanked those who sponsored and organized the ceremony at the War Memorial, including the Blue Ridge Veterans Celebration organization, the Town of Vinton, Roanoke County, WSLS 10, the Roanoke Valley Veterans Council, Kroger, and Vinton’s Special Programs Director, Mary Beth Layman.
The celebration of veterans concluded with a performance by the Revelation Quartet, which found many singing along to tunes from past decades.