Published in the Rains County Leader on November 14, 2017:
When I sat down to write this week, my mind wandered to the veterans we have been honoring for the weekend surrounding Veterans Day. I found an article I wrote in November of 2013, and I want to share it with you again. The Veterans Day program at the High School this year was a little bit different, and there were only 67 veterans, but the sentiment and respect were the same. So, to all the veterans who are reading this, once again I’ll say thank you for your service.
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 the treatment of our veterans is dignity. In recent years, restaurants have used Veterans 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 is one of those places.
This is the second year David and I have attended the annual Veterans Day Program at Rains High School. Once again I was amazed at the dignity displayed during this event. For those who were unable to attend, let me describe it for you.
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 of 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 on Veterans Day 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 here in Emory.