After COVID-19 caused unique Veterans Day celebrations last year, Monroe County and surrounding areas were back to in-person Veterans Day tributes last week.
This is not to say the celebrations were carbon copies of those years prior, however.
The Metzger-Crook Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6504, American Legion Post 747, Gibault Catholic High School, city and park district sponsored a ceremony at the school last Wednesday night in Waterloo.
Brig. Gen. Daniel A. DeVoe, commander of the 618th Air Operations Center at Scott Air Force Base, was the featured speaker. He spoke on how veterans all share the same venerable qualities.
“Our veterans represent the strength of our nation both in and out of uniform,” DeVoe said. “They are representative of all-American. They epitomize the notion of service before self while in uniform and then go on to demonstrate their greatest strength through their character and contributions in everyday life. Those qualities are timeless, a constant thread running through the multiple generations of our nation’s veterans.”
DeVoe said he recently witnessed this as Scott Air Force Base provided command and control for the air mobility components of Operation Allies Refuge in August.
As a result of a suicide bombing near the Kabul airport, 13 U.S. service members and 169 civilians were killed during this operation. Yet, DeVoe said the operation was still a “logistical and humanitarian success,” as thousands were evacuated to see a better life, many being Afghan refugees.
“They are the next round of heroes in a long line of veterans who have sacrificed to defend our freedoms, the ones who will be able to look at those veterans who have gone before in the eye and share their understanding,” DeVoe said of the brave service members involved in the operation. “They will be the ones to reinforce and strengthen our nation’s fabric and provide an example and mentor our future.”
This year’s ceremony was extra special, as 2021 marks the 75th anniversary of the Waterloo VFW. Because of this, 44 members were honored at the ceremony.
“I thought it was very well put together. When you see veterans sitting there with tears running down their (faces), it brought back memories,” Butch Sparwasser, longtime member of Metzger-Crook VFW Post 6504, said, adding it honored many who did not receive praise before. “Some of the Vietnam veterans were never recognized, when we came home from Vietnam, we were not recognized because for one reason or the other the news media made us look bad, and it was a bad situation.”
Local schools were also heavily involved, with students from Gibault and Waterloo High School performing songs and poems.
The following day, on Veterans Day itself, The Columbia American Legion Post 581 hosted their annual Veterans Day program. Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing was the featured speaker, and he presented every service member with an award recognized by law enforcement.
“The Challenge Coin is presented to our employees for going above and beyond during their duty. It could be for bravery, it could be for saving a life or it could be for significant arrests,” Rohlfing explained. “There is no doubt that everybody in here deserves that award.”
One by one, the veterans came up to shake Rohlfing’s hand and obtain their very own coin.
In her remarks, Legion Auxiliary Unit 581 President Janet Janson discussed a segment of veterans that are often forgotten: animals.
“What is a veteran? A veteran, whether active duty, discharged, retired or reserve, is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check payable to the United States of America for an amount up to and including his life,” Janson recited a quote she saw on social media as she said it related to her topic. “These animals were not able to sign the above listed check or speak for themselves in any way, yet they bravely endured serious injuries and suffered in many ways, and in a number of cases, paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.”
Through recapping a passage of “Walk in my Combat Boots: True Stories from America’s Bravest Warriors” by James Patterson, Retired U.S. Army First Sergeant Matt Eversmann and Chris Mooney, Post 581 Commander Greg Smith reminded veterans that no matter what role they served in – active combat or not – their service is important, and so is their mental health.
“We also must do whatever it takes to encourage veterans to seek help from the Department of Veterans Affairs or other trained professionals,” Smith said. “We must remove all stigmas associated with asking for help or being diagnosed with PTSD, depression or any condition that could lead one or more to take his or her life.”
As Smith stressed, one should memorize the Veterans Crisis Line to give to those in need: 1-900-273-8255, ext. 1. For those who can benefit from calling these digits, there is no shame in doing so.
American Legion Prairie Du Pont Post 485 in Dupo partnered with the Chief Pontiac VFW Post 1699 to host a Veterans Day service on Thursday, with the auxiliary hosting a luncheon after. Post 485 Commander Brian Humphrey said they plan on continuing teaming up for future Veterans Day celebrations.
While the service honored all veterans, it specifically spotlighted Korean War veterans. Bill Reynolds, a former Air Force F-86 pilot who served during the Korean War era, was the ceremony’s guest speaker. Reynolds wrote about his experiences in his book “Tiger 24.”
“We just felt like it was good to have somebody from that era talk about what it was like to be in the military at that point in time,” Humphrey said, adding Reynolds was formerly the principal of Dupo High School and played a large role in bringing the Air Force JROTC program to the district.
Valmeyer’s American Legion and Auxiliary Post 901 treated its veterans to a dinner Thursday night and St. John United Church of Christ honored veterans on Sunday.
“It was a nice meal, and the camaraderie among members was nice. You have to have your members get involved by sitting and talking and laughing … it was a good situation,” Sparwasser, also a member of Post 901, said.
Cedarhurst in Waterloo hosted a breakfast for their veterans, which was organized by Cedarhurst resident Lee Trost, who is a Korean War veteran.