History runs in cycles and so do attitudes toward veterans. When I was a kid, soldiers were respected, and even idolized, often portrayed as bigger-than-life characters on the silver screen. Then came the 60s and 70s, and young men returning from Vietnam were met with disrespect and even hostility. Instead of being welcomed home as heroes, they were spit on and villainized as warmongers and baby killers. More recently, especially after 9-11, attitudes have shifted back toward a more positive view of our military personnel.
But one thing that still seems to be lacking in our treatment of our veterans is dignity. In recent years, restaurants have used Veteran’s Day as an advertising ploy, competing to see who can offer the best special. Charities vie with one another to offer the most compassion to those who have been wounded or those who have lost loved ones in the defense of our country. Sometimes veterans are used as political pawns in heated campaigns. But there are still places where members of the military, past and present, are treated with dignity. Emory, Texas, is one of those places.
Every year this community comes together on Veterans Day to honor those whose day it is. This is the second year David and I have attended the event, and once again I was amazed at the dignity this small East Texas town displays.
The program was held in the high school gym. Various military vehicles were displayed outside the doors, boy scouts served as doormen, and teen-aged girls dressed in their Sunday best made sure everyone that came in was greeted with a bright smile and a friendly handshake. The gym was decorated with red, white, and blue bunting and a huge picture of a C-47, and one end was curtained off for the pre-program reception. There were favors including flag and service pins, mugs, and lanyards, and there was a beautiful brunch buffet.
After the reception, the friends and families of the veterans were seated on the gym floor. The high school students were seated in the bleachers on one side with the middle school on the other. As the program began, each of 87 veterans was introduced by name, branch of service, rank, area of service, and commendations received and then escorted to his or her seat by a member of the Future Farmers of America. The introductions were followed by the posting of the colors by the high school color guard, the singing of the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, musical tributes to each service branch, a ceremony remembering MIAs and POWs, and more. The theme of the program was “A Hero’s Homecoming,” and everything was aimed at making each veteran feel like a hero.
It worked. Smiles revealed the pleasure of being the center of so much
positive attention, and tears showed the deep emotions behind the memories. Bent backs straightened as World War II and Korean veterans stood in honor of their branches service, and flags were honored with familiar salutes.
The dignity and honor of the program was impressive, and the performance of the students who participated in the program was admirable, but what was even more impressive was the conduct of the students in the bleachers. They filed in with the expected noise of laughter and chatter, but as soon as the program started, a respectful silence fell. They stood with hands over their hearts during the anthem and the pledge, and they paid attention to what was going on, applauding enthusiastically in all the appropriate places.
There are many reasons David and I enjoy small town living, and today we experienced one more. In a time when dignity and respect are in short supply, it was refreshing to see so much of it displayed in Emory, Texas.