* * *
MOUNT VERNON — A question that hit Michael Hebenthal while deployed in Baghdad in November of 2008 was answered a few weeks later on Christmas Eve.
Hebenthal, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1983-2009, was the keynote speaker at Veterans Day services Sunday on Public Square in Mount Vernon. Hebenthal said he was walking the flight line at an ordinance depot when it struck him as bizarre that he should be in the middle of such a huge, wartime operation. Why, he wondered, should he be there — wasn’t he just another, ordinary individual?
The question stayed with him until Christmas Eve when, during a church service, he and the other members of the base were notified for volunteer duty. The duty was to prepare a C-130 cargo plane for three caskets, bearing the remains of U.S. service members, and to stand at attention as the caskets were loaded.
Most of the base turned out, Hebenthal said. As the plane took off and the service members who assembled for the flight began to go back to regular duties, Hebenthal realized that all the people there had probably asked themselves the same question he did.
“Everybody there was just like me,” Hebenthal said. “They were just average people in an extraordinary situation, average people who answered the call. We went there as average people, but I don’t think we returned average. It does change you, it makes you an extraordinary person.”
The 2018 Veterans Day service marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The veterans of that war are now all gone, their service in the county’s armed forces marked with Memorial Day. Those marking Veterans Day honor the living veterans of American wars, who have served in peacetime and in conflicts. Many served voluntarily, and others were drafted.
St. John’s Church Deacon Chris Yakkel, in his invocation at the service, fittingly asked for prayers for veterans “however they served and where ever they served.”
VFW Post 4027 Commander Steve Lybarger served as emcee for the event. Presentation of the flag was by the Knox County Career Center Air Force JROTC. Gold Star Mothers, VFW Auxiliary, Knox County Joint Veterans Council and Daughters of the American Revolution also participated in the service. Taps was performed by Carol McCutcheon, and Gary McCutcheon performed “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.
* * *
DANVILLE — A Veterans Day ceremony at Danville Village Park offered participants moments to reflect on a story of hope from the War of 1812 that embodies the American spirit of commitment and courage.
The story came from speaker Kevin Henthorn, director of the Knox County Veterans Service Office, who was in the presence of many fellow veterans who belong to American Legion Post 650 in Danville. An Air Force veteran from wars in Panama and Operation Desert Storm from 1989 to 1993, Henthorn noted that while the gathered crowd was small in number, some of that was attributed to Freedom of Religion as guaranteed in our First Amendment. Many community members were still in church at the time of the Veterans Day event since Veterans Day fell on Sunday this year.
Veterans Day commemorates the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. But Henthorn decided to consider the historical context of a key time in a young nation’s history more than 100 years earlier. He called it a topic his wife, a history teacher, could be proud of his telling, since it involved a fledgling nation’s struggle for survival and a legendary song that came from it, “The Star Spangled Banner,” — something every American, veteran and non-veteran alike, reveres when it is sung.
At the time Key wrote the song in 1814, Henthorn said, he was full of concern stemming from the ongoing battles between British and American forces during the War of 1812. Key had been taken aboard a British ship in the Chesapeake Bay to negotiate his release. The British had already burned Washington to the ground. Key wrote his famous tale of the bombarding of the Americans at Fort McHenry, located in Baltimore Harbor. The British had pulled their ships a few miles away to avoid being hit — so they could shell the fort, and the Americans there, for an extended period.
“They did so for not one, not two, but three days and three nights,” Henthorn said of the British onslaught. “Can you imagine the fighting and the combat that took place? For three days and three nights, our brave men and women served our new country with little opportunity to even fight back. And during the course of that battle not only did they have our flag flying above that fort, they also had their garrison flag flying, which was 40 feet long. It was as if to say. ‘Here we are; come take your best shot.’ If that isn’t the fighting spirit of our men and women, I don’t know what else is.”
Key and other prisoners of war aboard British vessels, though captive, never gave in on their hope for an American victory, Henthorn offered. They kept up a brave countenance, knowing that the soldiers fighting to free them were fighting for a nation and would not waiver or surrender. That’s when Key jotted his famous words on a notepad, hoping to see through the smoke and rubble, the American symbol of freedom and democracy during “dawn’s early light.”
“All they had to lean on was hope,” Henthorn said, noting that when the battle was over, the POWs did not know, at first, who had prevailed during the Battle of Fort McHenry. “That flag was their symbol … they stood there in hope and faith, asking, ‘Please tell me it’s still flying?” And of course it was, he added.
It is more important than ever on Veterans Day to remember the principles our Founding Fathers built a nation upon, Henthorn said — and those who continue to rise to its defense, as they have since a new nation declared independence in 1776.
“Our thoughts and prayers go to those who are continuing to serve,” Henthorn said, offering that Gen. George Washington’s directive to his officers was to continue educating our youth about the sacrifices made by American soldiers in service of country. One way to remember the sacrifices soldiers have made is to thank an American veteran when you have an opportunity to meet one.
“Just remember that every day is Veterans Day, is it not?” Henthorn asked.
The veterans ceremony ended with an Honor Guard’s rifle salute, and Danville High student Samantha Addair playing Taps. John Kaisler, one of the veterans from American Legion Post 650, served during the Vietnam era as part of the U.S. Air Force. His job in the service was to fill out forms related to supplies on cargo planes. Kaisler wore a jacket with wording on its back side that reads, “ The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.” He was asked if be believes American military veterans receive the respect they deserve.
“Today, yes. It wasn’t always that way, but today, it’s good,” Kaisler said.
Henthorn also spoke during a Veterans Day event at the Apple Valley Community Center in Howard.
* * *
FREDERICKTOWN — Community members came together Saturday to honor and remember the sacrifices that veterans, and their families, make when they take the pledge to defend the nation.
The Fredericktown American Legion Post 500 held its annual Veterans Day Remembrance Dinner Saturday evening. Most years, the event is held at Fredericktown United Methodist Church, but this year, with FUMC under construction, the dinner was held at Waterford United Methodist Church with FUMC still providing the meal.
Members of American Legion Post 500 and other area posts were recognized during the service, as were American Legion Auxiliary Unit 500 members, Honor Flight Participants, Gold Star Families and Boys State Delegates Chase Campbell and David Van Slake.
Chief Master Sergeant Richard Lyle, who served with the United States Air Force for 33 years before retiring in 2013, was the evening’s featured speaker. He spoke to attendees about the history of the American Legion and about the history of Veterans Day, first known as Armistice Day. Veterans Day and the American Legion both celebrated 100 years Sunday, Lyle said, though Congress didn’t officially recognize the American Legion as a non-profit until 1919.
Lyle also spoke to attendees about the benefits that veterans received. One of the key pieces of what the American Legion does is make sure that veterans and their families are getting the kind of support they need when they return home, Post 500 Service Officer David Rupp told the News.
Lyle touched on the G.I. Bill, passed in 1944 and designed by the American Legion, that provided a range of benefits for veterans returning from World War II, and the struggle that veterans went through to get that support.
“As popular as the G.I. Bill remains today, it took the horrific cost of bloodshed of World War II to remind many Americans just how great a debt was owed to our veterans,” Lyle said.
In the years before WWII, Lyle said, WWI veterans fought hard to get “bonuses they felt they were owed.” In 1932, veterans, camped out in Washington D.C. to petition for bonuses, were “overrun by the United States Army and at least two veterans were killed by police,” Lyle shared. A year later, according to Lyle, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke at the American Legion National Convention and told attendees, “No person, because he wore a uniform, must thereafter be placed in a special class of beneficiaries over and above other citizens.”
“What [Roosevelt] and others failed to realize at the time is that veterans were not asking to be part of a special class. They just wanted a shot at the American dream that they fought so hard to defend,” Lyle said. “Most Americans profess to truly love our veterans, especially at gatherings like this on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. … [But] it is important to remember that veterans are defending us 365 days a year.”
Lyle shared some of the sacrifices that veterans and their families make such as long separations, frequent changes in address, fear that they will not see their loved one again, and sometimes, the loss of their loved one. All reasons, Lyle said, why it is important for organizations like the American Legion to stick together and to fight for each other on Capitol Hill.
“Veterans have given us freedom, security and the greatest nation on Earth,” Lyle said. “We must remember them. We must appreciate them.”
Commander of American Legion Post 500, Joshua Leist, told the News that the annual dinner is a good way to remember what veterans have given up for the freedoms that Americans have.
“A lot of people had to sacrifice their lives for us to enjoy the things that we take for granted every day,” Leist said. “It’s important to remember those individuals and also the ones that got to come home. If you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.”