Monroe County has a long and storied military history, with native sons and daughters participating in every major war and many of their most significant battles since the founding of this nation.
This Veterans Day, the county’s military tradition continued as services honored those who have fought for the country since it’s very inception.
Guest speakers included personnel from the Army, Air Force and Navy. Some are on active duty, others left behind their days among the ranks years or decades ago. But all spoke with the same mission of helping the younger generations understand the scope and enormity of the sacrifices of military personnel of yesterday and today.
In Waterloo, the annual program at Waterloo High School hosted by the city of Waterloo, Waterloo VFW Post 6504, Waterloo American Legion Post 747 and Waterloo School District brought together current and former military personnel.
The guest speaker was Col. Laura Lenderman, commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing at Scott Air Base, who shared her experiences leading more than 2,900 personnel, assets of more than $4 billion and an annual budget of $130 million as her charges provide the critical service of medical evacuation for patients and transportation for high priority passengers and cargo around the world.
Each year, the Waterloo Veterans Day ceremony honors veterans from a designated era, and in this Bicentennial year of Monroe County it was Revolutionary War soldiers who were recognized.
Thirty-three men who fought between 1775 and 1783 were named, five of whom still have descendants living in the area today. Among them were Shadrach Bond Sr., the uncle of Shadrach Bond Jr., who is interred at Miles Cemetery; Capt. James Piggot, who established Piggot’s Fort near present-day Columbia; and John Whiteside and James Moore, who are buried at Moore Cemetery near Bellefontaine House along the old Kaskaskia-Cahokia Trail.
Thirty-nine soldiers whose descendants currently live in Monroe County were also recognized.
Perhaps the most moving part of the ceremony was the recognition of Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith by VFW Commander Rich Schilling and American Legion Commander Roy J. May for all the work he has done during his tenure as mayor to bring recognition to local veterans.
At Columbia’s annual Veterans Day ceremony at American Legion Post 581, Columbia native Gene Haltenhof spoke about his time as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and about his job as a veterans service representative for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“No one who’s seen war would wish it upon anyone,” Haltenhof said.
But war is a reality every generation of Americans has experienced, with the numbers of combat veterans increasing every day.
“They deserve our respect, not just today, but every day,” he said.
Haltenhof spoke about improvements at the VA to accommodate the ever-increasing and aging population of veterans and their disparate variety of needs.
Another organization working to meet the needs of veterans seriously injured in combat is the Joshua Chamberlain Society of St. Louis. Executive Director of Development Kathleen Winkler spoke about the mission of JCS, which supports 20 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the St. Louis area and two Gold Star Children who’ve lost parents in combat.
“They are so prideful,” Winkler said of the veterans her organization assists. “They want to do it on their own, they just sometimes can’t.”
At Columbia Middle School, more than 100 veterans were treated to a special morning at the school. It began with breakfast, followed by a standing ovation from the student body, a short program on the history of Veterans Day and letters of thanks from the students.
“I came home from Vietnam almost 50 years ago, and this is the first time I feel like anyone has said ‘thank you,’” remarked one veteran.
The students of Gibault Catholic High School welcomed retired U.S. Navy Comdr. John Mannix, who shared his story of studying chemistry at Purdue University on a Navy ROTC college scholarship. He served on two different fast attack Los Angeles-Class nuclear submarines as well as at land based assignments in Italy and Japan. Mannix finished his Navy career as a reservist stationed in St. Louis in 2008. His wife, Christina, is a Gibault graduate and fellow Navy officer, and their two daughters attend Gibault.
Gibault senior Trevor Davis, one of the Veterans Day program’s emcees, gave a brief history of the holiday. Students provided pictures of family members who served in the military, which were made into a slide show. The program concluded with students displaying a wall of letters they had written on why it’s important to honor our veterans.
Students and staff at Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic School held an assembly to honor veterans of the Armed Forces. Photos of family members of students who served in the military were compiled into a slideshow that is still available on the SPPCS website at www.sppswaterloo.org.
The guest speaker was Lt. Col. Marty Jung, an SPPCS parent, who gave an emotional presentation about his decision to join the U.S. Army and what Veterans Day means to him.
Each of the classes at SPPCS played a special role in the program. Students in the Early Learning Center held a Veterans Day streamer parade to begin the ceremony and the kindergarten classes led the Pledge of Allegiance. First graders wore shirts made with their handprints shaped into the American flag and recited a Pledge of Allegiance Poem.
The second grade classes performed “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and third graders recited a special poem for all veterans in attendance. Sixth graders performed “Proud to be an American” and the eighth grade class performed Red Skelton’s rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance for the assembly.
The final performance of the day was given by the fifth grade, who offered prayers for all veterans and led the audience in singing the song “God Bless America.”
At the end of the assembly, veterans in attendance were recognized and asked to stand.
The seventh graders then presented them with special hand-made medals, and each veteran received a special gift from SPPCS as a token of their appreciation.