Waterloo takes a look way back for Veterans Day
To say Veterans Day brings out the best in Monroe County is a bold statement. How do you take a community that brims with civic pride and patriotism every day, and then pulls out all the stops to create unique celebrations year after year that are worthy of the men and women the day was meant to honor? But time and again, town after town, it happens. And Waterloo leads that charge.
After past years of honoring our living veterans, city officials took a different route in 2015, inspired by Shane Douglas. An Eagle Scout candidate, he spent hours and hours locating and marking the final resting place of each Civil War veteran buried in Waterloo, and completed the project in time for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the end of that war to boot.
Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith, serving as emcee of last Wednesday’s program in the Waterloo High School auditorium, announced the names of dozens of local dignitaries in attendance, and introduced three who would speak to those gathered about honoring veterans before the boys in the blue and the grey would take center stage.
First up was Les Niemann, commander of Waterloo Metzger-Crook VFW Post 6504. Niemann’s brevity only emphasized the power of his words.
“There is an unusual sadness that follows a veteran,” Niemann said. “A vet has never received enough appreciation for what he has done. It’s beyond our comprehension to understand their service. The best that we can do is to remember. That’s what Veterans Day is all about. Memories.”
Following Niemann, Roy J. May, commander of Waterloo American Legion Post 747, took the opportunity to remind listeners veterans aren’t the only ones who sacrifice, and their sacrifices don’t end when their military careers do.
“We set this day, the 11th of November, as a special day to honor (active military) members and veterans.
“We must also honor all families, not just with blue and gold and star banners. But with compassionate hearts.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, life-altering war wounds — they not only affect the veterans. They take a great toll on the families.”
The American Legion has an extensive network of resources for veterans whose wounds are obvious, and for those whose wounds are not as readily visible to the naked eye.
And they plan on answering the calls for help from veterans and their families for years to come.
“In 2019, the American Legion will be 100 years old and I look forward to celebrating with you,” the 90-year-old May said.
The final speaker was U.S. Congressman Mike Bost of the 12th District. Bost is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and he gave listeners a little Illinois history lesson on Veterans Day.
“When we created this nation, many states were at odds… It was some of the darkest times,” Bost said of the decades leading up to the Civil War.
“If it was not for those who would stand and fight, if it was not for those who believed in this nation, we wouldn’t be assembled here today.
“So, we take this time to honor veterans. We in Southern Illinois started at an early time to honor our veterans. After the Civil War, one of the first veterans service organizations was formed by a southern Illinois man. It was The Grand Army of the Republic.
“It was (made up of) brothers and sisters banding together and giving support to those who had served, holding tight to the idea that that act of service of putting yourself into harms way, is truly something we should honor and respect. And we should treat our veterans in a way they deserve.”
After a stirring rendition of “A Tribute to the Armed Forces” performed by the joint Waterloo and Gibault high school concert choirs, Smith described young Douglas’s efforts, bringing Civil War veterans to center stage, visually represented by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and Sons of Confederate Veterans organizations in full-period fighting gear.
The names and any known biographical information of the nearly 100 locally interred Civil War veterans were read aloud, while the living relatives, for whom more than 50 of the soldiers had been identified, stood for recognition. Later, the survivors would be assembled and presented with certificates designating their relation to a locally buried Civil War veteran.
The ceremony closed out with a solemn rendition of “Taps” by Ryan Brandt and Russell Wolf, followed by the Metzger-Crook Waterloo VFW Post 6504 Honor Guard retiring the colors.