Ray McFadden

Commander Ray McFadden, of VFW Post 4027 (based in Mount Vernon), salutes the U.S. flag during Monday's annual Veterans Day ceremony.

MOUNT VERNON – Sandy Schisler had held it together most of the morning.

But as ‘Taps’ began to play, signaling the end of the VFW’s annual Mount Vernon Veterans Day ceremony, tears formed in Schisler’s eyes. She took out a white Kleenex and dabbed them occasionally. She wasn’t the only one.

A large crowd filled Public Square on Monday morning to celebrate Veterans Day, honoring those who have served, or are currently serving, in the U.S. military. Several local organizations took part in the event, including the Mount Vernon High School Symphonic Band, the Knox County Career Center Air Force JROTC, the Lucy Knox Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Knox County Joint Veterans Counsel and the Knox County Veterans Services Office. It was hosted by VFW Post 4027, based in Mount Vernon.

Schisler attended the ceremony with her mother. She and her husband have triplets – all juniors at Mount Vernon High School – and two performed in the symphonic band. Schisler came to support her children, she said, but also to show respect for those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“I just think it’s really important because children aren’t taught how important this is,” said Schisler, who began to tear up again. “It’s just so important because we are so blessed to live in this nation, with all of our freedoms. If we don’t support this and we don’t do this for our children, so that they know, I think we’re in trouble.”

Schisler, like many in attendance Monday, has family military ties. Her great uncles served in World War II, some of her relatives served in the Vietnam War, and she had high school friends who served in the Persian Gulf War.

“I always heard the stories or I knew high school friends that were in the service,” Schisler said.

That’s why she needed to dab her eyes every so often. For Schisler – and for many others standing on Public Square – Monday was personal.

“I think it’s really important, as a community, to participate in this and to thank all those that have done this for us,” Schisler said.

After the JROTC posted the nation’s colors, the MVHS Symphonic Band played the National Anthem and those present recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Minister Ron Jewett opened the ceremony with a prayer, and Commander Ray McFadden, of the Mount Vernon VFW post, thanked the crowd for coming despite the cold temperatures.

The Lucy Knox Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed its Gold Star Mothers Wreath near the lectern, then the VFW Ladies Auxiliary placed its Poppy Cross next to it. After a playing of the Armed Forces Medley by the MVHS Symphonic Band, guest speaker Dr. Rev. Lucian Baker addressed the crowd.

“I usually speak in front of a congregation every Sunday morning and I’m never nervous because, well, they pay me, and so they anticipate that I should do well,” the reverend said with a smile. “But I gotta tell you, speaking for the veterans for the very first time is somewhat nerve-wracking.”

Baker was a U.S. Navy Marine Corpsman during the Vietnam War. He was responsible for helping wounded U.S. soldiers regain health before transitioning to their next wartime station.

Baker took great pride in his role, and he said he did it well.

“My only claim to fame is that all the boys that were attached to me, they all made it to the next station,” Baker said. “That, to me, is the best thing that I ever did in the service. I did my job and I did it with my whole heart, and I’m not ashamed.”

Baker went on to become the director of cardiology at Knox Community Hospital, where he introduced ultrasonography and cardiology-related medicine to the community. He continues to serve as a pastor at Christ the King Community Church in Fredericktown, which he founded in 2000. Baker has worked as a pastor in central Ohio for the last 40-plus years.

“It’s because of the U.S. Navy that my career was given to me…” Baker said. “I’ve done a lot of things, but every one of those things is because of my time in the service. They took a young boy, at 18, and they made me change. And so I love the country, I love what it stands for.”

Baker recalled joining the military during the Vietnam War, and the widespread anti-war protests that were occurring in America at the time. He said it reaffirmed what he and his fellow service members were fighting for.

“They had the right to protest and I had the right to defend their right to protest, and that’s the way it should be,” Baker said. “That’s who we are. That’s what we stand for.”

The reverend closed his speech with an impassioned, patriotic plea:

“I believe with all of my heart that as long as there are veterans and military, that the United States can put on the ground, our freedoms will be secure. Because some of us will not bend, or bow, or kiss the feet of any other national leader, because we are Americans and we’re proud to be Americans.

“I’m proud to be a veteran of the United States Navy and proud to represent the veterans here in our county. It’s a good place to live and I believe that with all of my heart.”

Baker’s speech was followed by a rifle salute from the Knox County Joint Veterans Council, then the playing of ‘Taps’ by Carol McCutchen. Gary McCutchen played the bagpipes to conclude the ceremony.

Despite the cold weather, which nearly made the VFW move the ceremony to the Knox County Memorial Building, McFadden said he was pleased with the turnout.

“It was a good turnout for a cold day,” McFadden said. “We were worried we were going to have to be in the Memorial Building, which we’ve never done before – last year, you didn’t even need a coat out here. So it was all last-minute put together, changing things around again to get it back to the square. There may have been some confusion, but we had a good turnout. It looked about normal.”

McFadden served in the U.S. Army for 22 years after graduating from Mount Vernon High School in 1970. He served in an aviation unit, which transported soldiers and military cargo via Chinook helicopters. He served in Vietnam and eventually across the world.

Like Schisler, McFadden noted the importance of Monday’s ceremony. The purpose, he said, is “to keep it alive, to realize the people that have sacrificed and the time spent away from home, and just to let them not be forgotten.”

It’s to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, he added, in order to keep the U.S. safe.

“Today is their day,” McFadden said.

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Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.