MOUNT VERNON — The sun was bright and the air crisp as the notes of the flute wafted across Public Square.
At precisely 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Salvucci opened the annual Veterans Day ceremony.
The large crowd, many of them veterans, stood reverently, recognizing the sacrifice of so many servicemen and women.
Keynote speaker Maj. Jon van Kan, U.S. Army retired, focused on that sacrifice and the willingness to serve.
“Regardless of the dates you served, the location, or duty description, you have demonstrated the best of America by your willingness to serve,” he told the veterans.
Van Kan also noted the contribution of the families of service members and veterans. He quoted John Milton, who said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
“The support and sacrifices of our service families have helped to keep the military strong and our country safe,” van Kan said.
He also noted the sacrifices of military children, who did not sign up for the demands placed on them by growing up in the service.
“Day after day, they meet those challenges, steadily and as sterling representatives of the military community, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for that,” he said.
Van Kan reviewed the origins of Veterans Day, which was initially called Armistice Day in recognition of when the guns fell silent, ending the fighting in World War I. Unfortunately, WWI was not the “war to end all wars” as first thought.
After World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became known as Veterans Day.
“Today, Veterans Day is a celebration of the courage and sacrifice of all our veterans, from all eras and all conflicts in our history,” van Kan said. “It is fitting that Veterans Day traces its origins back over 100 years as our veterans have continued a proud tradition that extends to the founding of the nation itself.”
Referencing the 18 million living veterans in the United States today, van Kan said they come from all corners of the country and represent every aspect of society. However, he said they have one identity and one spirit.
“All veterans do have one or two things in common, and the most important is they have all raised their hands and said, ‘Send me. I will go,’” he said.
“It is this willingness to step forward on behalf of the nation, at the potential loss of their own life, that we recognize and celebrate. That’s what it means to be a veteran.”
All veterans share that characteristic, voluntarily placing themselves in harm’s way for the country.
“They have stepped up to protect and defend this nation. To protect and defend us. And for this, they deserve both our gratitude and respect,” van Kan said. “So, thank a veteran for his service, today and every day, and understand what that service actually means.”
But van Kan asked the crowd to go “one little step further.” He urged those present to ask veterans about their service and listen to their stories.
“Our veterans represent the living history of our nation, and we can honor and acknowledge their service and sacrifice by knowing their story, sharing their experiences, and demonstrating that we care and that we are listening,” he said.
Another way to honor veterans is to give of ourselves and “emulate their willingness to sacrifice for the greater good by helping those who have served.”
Van Kan cited several “concrete courses of action” community members can take:
•Honor Flight Columbus — A nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring veterans with a free trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the service memorials. Service opportunities include escorting veterans on the trip, working as ground crew at the local or D.C. airport, or being there to welcome the veterans when they return home to Columbus.
•Paddle for Heroes — A nonprofit whose mission is to help veterans, first responders, and their families heal through paddling.
•Wreaths Across America — A nonprofit organization striving to lay remembrance wreaths on all veteran gravesites during the holiday season.
•Ohio’s Hospice Thank a Veteran — Community members can send personalized messages of thanks and support to veterans.
Van Kan also cited the Knox County Veterans Service Office, which provides a variety of services, and Habitat for Humanity, which includes veterans among the families for which it builds and repairs homes.
Reiterating the encouragement to thank veterans for their service and ask about their stories, van Kan thanked all veterans and their families.
“We will never know the true extent of what you have given to this country,” he said.
The Knox County Career Center Air Force JROTC opened the ceremony by posting the colors. Eva Burns sang the national anthem, and all recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
The JROTC placed a Gold Star wreath. The Daughters of the American Revolution followed with the DAR wreath, and the VFW Auxiliary placed the Poppy Cross.
The Mount Vernon High School Band performed the Armed Forces medley. The traditional rifle salute, performed by The Knox County Joint Veterans Council under Commander Dan Baker, was followed by the playing of Taps.
The ceremony concluded with the JROTC cadets retiring the colors.
The Life & Culture section is brought to you by Knox Community Hospital.