(The rains stopped, and a parade was held this day, honoring our Veterans. Flags and people waving flags lined the streets of this small town in the North Georgia mountains. Led by a single horse with the symbolic backward boots in the stirrups, the Parade ended on the Square. Some of the Veterans were given front-row seats; those who could stand were scattered amongst the crowd with their families and friends. The first speaker was a veteran, a distinguished and admired resident of Ellijay. He requested his name and picture not be included here, but was kind enough to allow me to use his speech for a Veteran's Day Tribute. What follows here is that speech, with his permission...)
"Good Morning to you all. It is a great day to be an American and to be a veteran as well as a member of this great community. It is indeed an honor for me to be here today and be able to speak to all my comrades-in-arms and to the general public.
As a matter of fact, when Sam called me and invited me to be one of the speakers, I was overwhelmed. I asked him "What do you want me to speak about?". He said, "What it is to be a Veteran". So I decided to talk about what actually it means to me and all of you, to be a veteran. I am sure that each veteran here has his own story of how we got into the Armed Forces...
It has been over 60 years since I watched the first military parade back in my home of Puerto Rico. As a matter of fact, I never will forget such a great day that left an impact on my life. It was the 4th of July in 1940, and four of us stood next to our mother holding a little American flag that was given to us by our father.
Those marching in the parade were members of the great 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico. They marched wearing those impeccable uniforms, their left feet hitting the pavement with a precise movement as the sound of the drums echoed. Thousands of people stood on the sidewalks as the soldiers went by, waving their little American flags. There were tears in my mother's eyes as the band started playing the American National Anthem. It never occurred to us that 14 years later each of us would be wearing the same uniform, with the same pride. As we came back from Korea, there were thousands of people, young and old, waving flags; it was then we all understood that great feeling. We could feel the electricity through our bodies. It was the same feeling as that of those that marched in front of us 14 years earlier.
All of you that served in Vietnam could not experience such a great welcome. Our country was in turmoil, and there were hundreds of demonstations across our land against the war. But our pride, dedication and love for our country is always there and will remain there with all of us until the day we die.
There is something special about being a veteran; it is a feeling of accomplishent, a sense of pride and honor to defend our country, especially when our country needed us. We were always there; we never ran to another country; we didn't burn the Old Glory; we didn't burn our draft cards, but instead we stood with pride. We were called to defend our freedom, and that should be enough for every man and woman to take a stand and defend our Way of Life. We also shared a common bond. We served with great soldiers from all walks of life with dignity, respect, love, compassion and dedication. We all understood them and those serving now, that we fight for something that is intangible, and a great number of people take for granted - FREEDOM!
When you talk to veterans, we share stories and learn from each other. There is always some little story, not always about the terrible things that we saw or experienced, but those that changed the lives of many of us. So, I would like to share with all of you one of those pleasant stories.
My last duty assignment was in Fort Hood, Texas. I was on my way to work and, as I drove by a primary school, I saw a young school teacher surrounded by her class. She was showing them the proper way to raise Old Glory. That moment captivated me, because it brought back great memories from my primary years at school. So, I got out of the car as two children raised the flag, as the others stood at attention and had their right hands over their tiny chests. I stood there and saluted the flag, and the others did the same. I noticed an old man next to me that had removed his cap and stood at attention with enormous pride. As the flag reached the top, we dropped our salute and engaged in a short conversation. He told me that he was a veteran of World War II and saw action in Normandy during the Invasion - he was a survivor. He then said, "You know, Sergeant Major, I would like to see this more often at every school; it gives you a sense of pride." He said, "I couldn't stand to see my flag handled improperly." He continued to say that once he was at a McDonald's getting a cup of coffee. "It was windy, and it started raining very hard. A young man launched out from behind the counter and started to lower the flag; he couldn't do it. So I stepped out to help him. To his surprise, I wanted to fold the flag the proper way, even though it was pouring rain, and we both got soaking wet. I thought he was going to be mad at me, but, instead, with great respect, he thanked me for showing him the respect that the flag deserved."
As old veterans, we should be a Beacon of Freedom for our young generation, so they may understand what freedom means to all of us. We are no longer on active duty, but we are proud veterans. Proud to have served our country, and now we are serving our community to make it a better place for our new generation. I have confidence that our new generation will carry the banner as well as we did, as all of you have done.
We thank God for all our blessings, for this great country and for all the members of this community.
I salute you. (At this point, the Sergeant Major snapped a smart salute to the veterans in the crowd! He finished with...) God Bless."