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SLIDESHOW: A thank-you to vets

Dozens filled Constitution Square in downtown South Boston for the Veterans Day ceremony held after the annual Veterans Day Parade down Wilborn Avenue on Saturday morning. 

The crowd surrounded the gazebo in the square to hear guest speakers Air Force Lt. Col. (retired) Ted Daniel and American Legion 5th District Past Commander Wayne Bowen explain what Veterans Day means to this country.

The Rev. Gregory Thomas of True Light Baptist Church offered the invocation followed by the Halifax County High School Chorus singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Daniel who also serves as South Boston town manager, thanked the crowd for attending the parade and ceremony.

“Thank you for supporting this morning’s tribute to our nation’s veterans. As I look around the crowd, I cannot help but assume that most of you have direct connections to a veteran: a father, a mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt or grandparent,” he said.

Daniel discussed the dwindling number of living veterans due to suicide and listed mental health disorders, injuries, traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, grief over losing a team member and heavy alcohol and prescription drug use as contributing factors to why a vet may commit this act.

“For those of you who are here today who have been close to a veteran, you are well aware of the nature of the military beast. For others who may not be aware of this aspect of potentially deadly non-combat non-active duty military service, I hope I have enlightened you, and I encourage you to learn more about this under-reported national tragedy confronting our military veterans,” Daniel said.

 He said freedom is not free.

“If our nation does not maintain the strongest military on the face of the earth, our freedom will eventually slip from our grasp. The nation our forefathers left us will be lost to those who come behind us. This is not hyperbole. World history is full of example after example,” Daniel said.

He pointed out volunteers make up the military, and one out every 100 citizens chooses to volunteer to protect the freedom and way of life in the United States.

“And we are neglecting those among them who need our extra help and support and thereby allowing them to commit suicide because we did not make the extra effort to insure they have immediate and competent medical help. Medical help necessitated by their mental wounds suffered in service to us,” Daniel said. “And our elected officials continue to play political games with the whole financial foundation and future of our nation and willfully sequester critical defense spending in order to score political points and squander scarce dollars on trivial and unnecessary federal pork projects. Granted everyone has their opinion as to what our national priorities should be, but I argue that the proper care of those 1 percent of us who volunteer to insure the preservation of our freedom and way of life takes its place at the head of the line.”

He thanked the crowd for taking the time to honor all veterans before saying, “ Enjoy your freedom while you still can because when it comes down to just veterans and their close family and friends who take the time and make an effort to assemble on these occasions to say thank you, we are in deep trouble as a nation.”

He closed with a quote from Ronald Reagan.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free,” Daniel said before introducing Bowen.

Bowen said more than 720,000 veterans of all generations remain unemployed, and when people join the military they are not alone and should not have to struggle as they transition to civilian life. He said supporting veterans requires a team approach by the military, government agencies and the local community.

“Just as a nation rallies for the troops in a time of war, the same country must rally for its veterans during times of peace. On Veterans Day, Remembrance Day, Armistice Day or the Day of Peace the world stops in silence to pay tribute to the heroes of the battlefield who never see themselves as heroes. To that I say we owe veterans more than our silence, our memories, our thanks,” Bowen said.

He quoted President John Kennedy.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them,’’ he said.

 He posed the questions, “When we think of how much our veterans and their families have done for our nation, how do we honor their sacrifice? How do we celebrate their service? How do we do these things in a meaningful way? How do we make a difference in the lives of the men and women who have made such a difference in our lives?”

 He added that veterans don’t see themselves as being brave or special, they just say they were doing their jobs.

 He said Americans should encourage businesses to hire veterans or military family members, spread the word about organizations seeking to help veterans and volunteer in the community.

“Military personnel bring exceptional training values and experience to their civilian jobs. The leadership and technical skills developed in the military make them valuable additions to any organization,” Bowen said. 

He pointed out soldiers are soldiers for life describing them as strong, resilient, creative and determined.

“I am confident this generation will join the remarkable generation of men and women who wore a uniform and left an enduring mark on this nation. Our veterans and their families have given so much. It is our sacred duty to maintain their trust and faith and remind them they will always remain the strength of this nation,” he said. “Let’s get together and ensure our veterans have every opportunity to reach their highest potential. We have some great young men and women counting on us to come through for them and their families. Let’s not let them down.”

He closed his speech asking God to bless the crowd, the veterans and the nation. 

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