Duty, Honor, Country
Gray skies faded to blue as the area’s warriors gathered last week to celebrate Veterans Day.
Flanked by a long blue line of uniformed veterans, Command Sergeant Major James Allen of the West Virginia Army National Guard gave a speech Nov. 11 at Sistersville’s Veterans Park overlooking the Ohio River.
“The service members we honor today come from all walks of life, but they share fundamental qualities,” he said. “They possess courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty and integrity all the qualities needed to serve a cause larger than one’s self.”
Allen’s many years in uniform has seen him command many legions of troops in various outposts including Iraq. His military medals include the Bronze Star, two Meritorious Service medals, three Army Commendations medals, the Global War on Terrorism medal among many other awards and honors. Allen spoke of the origins of Veterans Day, which traces to Armistice Day when the guns went silent at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of eleventh month in 1918 at the close of World War 1.
“As time went on and we engaged in further conflicts during World War II and Korea, veterans groups lobbied for a change,” he said. “Rather than honoring the armistice and only those who served during World War 1, the holiday would now honor all veterans from every war and conflict the United States has and will encounter. We’ve honored all our troops and their service and sacrifice ever since.”
A light wind unfurled several small American flags that were planted in the ground by stones noting Americas wars. Many members of the large crowd gathered at Veterans Park listened with silent reverence as Allen talked about duty, honor and country.
“Your presence here today and that of the people gathering all across America is a tribute to those lost troops and to their families,” said Allen in a voice strained with emotion. “It is a way to say we remember. From the soldiers who shivered and starved through the winter at Valley Forge to the doughboys crouched in the muddy trenches of France to the platoon who patrolled the hazy jungles of Vietnam and the young men and women patrolling the mountains of Afghanistan and deserts of Iraq, we remember and honor them all.”
Allen concluded his remarks by welcoming home Vietnam veterans.
“Because Vietnam was not a popular war, many were not welcomed home as our service members are today from defending our great nation,” he said. “Thank you for all you have done and welcome home. We do appreciated you and your sacrifices to our nation.”
A Color Guard lined up moments after Allen said to the crowd, “God bless you and your families. God bless our troops and the United States of America.”
A Color Guard fired shots that echoed across the Ohio Valley and a bugle sounded Taps.
When the ceremony ended, many veterans went to the Elks Lodge for food and cheer. Local notables like Tyler County Superintendent Robin Daquilante and Tom Cooper, executive director of Tyler County Emergency Management, helped to cook and serve a home-cooked meal to the veterans. More than 150 people dined on ham, green beans, potatoes, slaw along with cake topped off with tiny American flags for dessert.
“The Veterans Day service at the park that was awesome,” said Herbie McEowen, a veteran and Elks Lodge trustee. “That was a big crowd. That has to be the best turnout we’ve ever had for the Veterans Day program.’
McEowen said this was the second year the Elks Lodge has hosted the luncheon after the Veterans Day service. He praised Bernie Johnson and Don Stokes, key organizers at the Elks Lodge, because “Those two guys do it and they do it right.”
McEowen noted the ham’s taste as he stared across the room at long tables that were filled with veterans and their families.
“I think this turned out to be a big hit,” he said. “The Elks by tradition are big supporters of the military.