Flags were waving, bands were marching and salutes were popping this week in honor of our nation's service men and women at the annual Veterans Day Parade in Prescott.
Although special tribute was paid to the females who serve our country bravely with this year's parade theme, A Grateful Nation Salutes Our Women Veterans; remembering the sacrifices our military troops have made, make and continue to endure on a daily basis was the recurring message throughout the day.
So, this article is dedicated to reminding folks to remember and honor those who fight for our freedoms throughout the year, not simply at Veterans Day and Memorial Day celebrations.
Dr. Susan Angell, Director of the Northern Arizona VA Health Care System at the the Bob Stump Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Prescott, drove this message home Wednesday in her opening speech for the Veteran's Day Parade.
"Our organization exists for one clear purpose: To repay our debt of gratitude to our nation's veterans each day," Angell said, before reading the following excerpt from President John F. Kennedy's Veterans Day Speech delivered Nov. 11, 1961 at Arlington National Cemetery.
"'We celebrate this Veterans Day for a very few minutes, a few seconds of silence, then this country's life goes on. But I think it most appropriate that we recall on this occasion and on every other moment when we are faced with great responsibilities the contribution and the sacrifice which so many men and women and their families have made in order to permit this country to now occupy its present position of responsibility and freedom; in order to permit us to gather here together in an age that threatens the survival of freedom. We join together to honor those who have made our freedom possible,'" Angell read.
"President Kennedy's words are as true and appropriate today as they were when he spoke them five decades ago!" she told the hundreds of people attending Wednesday's pre-parade ceremonies.
"It has always been our military service workers, our veterans, who have stood ready to fight for our country and who, when necessary to achieve peace, carried that fight to our enemies with perseverance and the greatest of courage. And so, here at the V.A., we have the duty and responsibility of providing veterans the very best care and service possible," she said. "For us, it is more than a duty. It truly is a privilege."
Prescott Valley Mayor Harvey Skoog and Chino Valley Mayor Jim Bunker joined Dist. 1 Representative Lucy Mason and Prescott Mayor-elect Marlin Kuykendall in judging parade entries after listening with earnest to the heartfelt speeches delivered by Dr. Angell and Dist. 1 Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick.
"Veterans Day means a lot to all of us," Skoog told Prescott eNews. "Our freedom and liberty are things that we have got to protect. And our constitution is worth defending. We have a good one, if people will use it right. So, I'm glad that people have stepped up front in the past, in the present, and hopefully in the future to keep this freedom and liberty that we enjoy each and every day."
Bunker told Prescott eNews that although he did not serve in the military he has ultimate respect for those who have. He emphasized how vital it is to recognize veterans and remember that if it were not for their sacrifices the United States of America would never have been founded nor would it exist today.
"Veterans are the ones who fought and secured our freedom," he said. "They are the ones who came from England and created this country and fought for the freedoms that only our nation offers. They are the ones who who put an end to slavery and put down the tyrants of the world. I am deeply indebted. I didn't serve myself but I'm really appreciative of those who did and the sacrifices they made. It's a wonderful country. They earned it for us and I'm very thankful for the contributions they made!"
Not only have our soldiers sacrificed their lives abroad, they have died here on American soil while preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thousands of U.S. citizens spent yesterday mourning the lives of those 13 service men and women who were killed at Fort Hood, Texas, for no clear logical reason.
As Associated Press Reporter Ryan J. Foley reported in an article published by Yahoo News this morning:
"Hundreds of people lining the main street of an Indiana town on Saturday fell solemnly silent as the white hearse passed. Mourners waited for hours outside a Wisconsin gymnasium to say goodbye to a soldier who once promised to take down Osama bin Laden.
"And in Oklahoma, a newlywed grieved for her husband of nearly three months.
"Several victims of the Nov. 5 shooting massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, were laid to rest Saturday across the country, after family members, friends, fellow soldiers and strangers passed their flag-draped coffins and paid their respects.
"In Plymouth, Ind., Sheila Ellabarger had placed two foot-high American flags in the grass where she watched the procession for U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Justin DeCrow. She said her children went to school with DeCrow and his wife — his high school sweetheart — and she knew others in his family.
"'He was killed by a terrorist in my mind but he was still killed in the line of duty. We owe him a debt of gratitude, him and his family and the other soldiers. We owe them our lives, our freedom,' Ellabarger said.
"During services in Norman, Okla., images of Army Spc. Jason Dean Hunt and his beaming wife were shown on a screen. The recently married 22-year-old was described as a loving husband and family man as well as a soldier who left a legacy of selflessness and service.
"'We may never find out the reason for what occurred on that fateful day at Fort Hood, Texas,' said Brig. Gen. Ross Ridge, of Fort Sill, Okla. 'The military community are all grieving here today over the loss of this dedicated soldier.'
"Hunt was among the 13 people who were killed at Fort Hood, where authorities allege Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire at the processing center. Hasan, 39, has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder in a military court. Army investigators have said he is the only suspect in the case and could face additional charges. His attorney has said prosecutors have not yet told him whether they plan to seek the death penalty.
"On the Texas post that the fallen soldiers once called home, officials continued with their plans for deployment."
So, the beat goes on. Every minute of every day U.S. soldiers prepare to fight for our freedoms, knowing full well there is a price attached to it. Knowing that any one of them might be the next one to foot the tab.
Congresswoman Kirkpatrick told Prescott-area residents in her Veterans Day Parade speech this week that she is dedicated to fighting for the rights of these brave soldiers in Washington, D.C., and wherever her elected position takes her. She said she is proud to follow in Congressman Bob Stump's footsteps on Congress' V.A. Committee and has introduced legislation to take care of veterans to help them afford rising health care costs. She said she was motivated by the commitment to military service in her family. Her uncle came to Fort Whipple in Prescott (now renamed the Bob Stump VA Medical Center) to heal from wounds he suffered from battle in WWll. Her father also defended this great nation in WWII. And her cousin came home to Prescott after fighting in Vietnam.
"There is a long tradition of military service in my family and it's really an honor for me to spend Veterans Day here in Prescott," she said. "We are continuing to work hard to make sure our veterans have the care and honor that they deserve and are treated with the dignity and the respect that they deserve."
"Thank you!" hollered a vet from the crowd.
Kirkpatrick smiled, sending him gratitude with a twinkle in her eyes and a humble nod, then continued describing the strides she's made to help veterans. "Early this year, there was discussion that we should charge veterans for their service-related disability care. I didn't think that was a good idea and joined my colleagues in writing a letter to the President, encouraging him to keep our promises to our veterans and we were successful in defeating that policy. Just two days ago, I did a tele-town hall specifically on veterans' issues.
"But I also stand before you with a deep sadness in my heart because of the deaths within the last week at Fort Hood. As I'm sure many of you did,
I watched on my T.V. from my home in Flagstaff the memorial of the deaths at Fort Hood. It was a reminder to me of the tragedy that can strike our men and women in uniform at any given time. Yet, in our grief, we are also inspired by the courage and bravery of our soldiers and our law enforcement. And because today we're giving a special tribute to our women veterans, I think it's very fitting that we remember the courageous action of a woman police officer who put an end to the shooting spree."
The crowd interrupted her speech at this point with a hearty applause of recognition to the brave efforts that women fighting for our freedoms make.
"In May, I went with five other congresswomen to Afghanistan, mothers and grandmothers, who wanted to spend the day with our troops in the field. We wanted to especially spend the day with our women soldiers and we were there to hear their complaints. But there were no complaints. Instead, they talked with us about their deep desire to serve our country and fight for freedom. And yet, we knew that they were leaving their families behind, their children behind, their husbands behind, who had to live their daily lives sacrificing that mother to her service for her country. I can picture those young women that we talked to and I'm inspired by their devotion to service to our country and fight for freedom.
"I don't believe there is enough that we can do for our service men and women veterans," Kirkpatrick said. "I keep a sign over my desk in Washington, D.C., taped to the wall that says, 'We must fight for our veterans with all our might because they have already paid the price.'
"On behalf of all of our service men and women, those who are here today, those throughout our nation and throughout the world, THANK YOU!" she said. "And as Dr. Angell so eloquently said, 'Every day should be Veterans Day.'"
V.A. Medical Center Public Affairs Officer Ame Callahan then introduced ROTC Detachment 408 from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, who had been standing vigil for 24 hours over the American flag at the heart of the medical center.
"They have been standing watch over our flag for the last 24 hours as a reminder to all our veterans, prisoners of war and those who are missing in action that YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN!" Callahan said. "Today, we are also honoring the victims of Fort. Hood, Texas."
A silence fell over the medical center, with somber faces filling the parade grounds, even as marching bands could be heard in the distance making their way down the main street to the crowd.
Let us live up to Callahan's declaration and proudly remember to honor our veterans, and the sacrifices our service men and women make for our freedoms, each and every day, not just on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
As Dr. Angell reminded parade goers Wednesday, "We must honor those with deeds not just words."