Jefferson County residents gathered on the lawn of the White Hall Community Center Saturday to honor military veterans and active duty soldiers at the White Hall Veterans Day program. Speakers for the program included Colonel Kelso C. Horne III, commander of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, Senator Tom Cotton, Congressman Bruce Westerman, Bo Fontaine, a former marine who received four purple hearts, and Glen Minor, a former helicopter pilot for the United States Air Force.
Each speaker stood before the crowd and expressed their gratitude for the armed forces and explained their personal connection to the military. The speakers were introduced by David Beck, the master of ceremonies. The first speaker was Fontaine, who explained the history of Veterans Day.
“Today we’re celebrating a holiday — it’s a time we all get together and barbecue and have fun and tell stories and watch television, it’s a time to relax and throw back, but you know something, there’s a tremendous price that comes with this holiday,” Fontaine said. “It’s a day of recognition — it’s a time that some recognize for the tragedies of war. A proclamation (was signed) on Nov. 11 and said that Nov. 11 is Armistice Day, and again it was to remind Americans of the tragedies of war.”
The first Armistice Day was the anniversary of World War I, which ended on the eleventh month of the eleventh day at the eleventh hour. In 1926, Congress passed a resolution for an annual observance making Nov. 11 a national holiday in 1938. On June 1, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower officially changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans day. The date of the holiday was later changed to Oct. 4 but was returned to Nov. 11 due to the historical significance of the day.
Fontaine ended his speech by thanking the veterans and reminding the crowd to never forget the sacrifices that were made for their freedom. Minor then addressed the crowd to explain the significance of Veterans Day, adding that a lot of people tend to forget what Veterans Day is about.
“It is a veteran, not the preacher who gives us the freedom of religion; it is the veteran, not the reporter who gives us the freedom of the press; it the veteran, not the poet who gives us the freedom of speech; it is the veteran, not the campus organizer who gives us the freedom to assemble; it is the veteran, not the lawyer who gives us the right to a fair trial; it is the veteran, not the politician who gives us the right to vote; it is the veteran who salutes the flag; it is the veteran who serves under the flag,” Minor said.
During his speech, Minor read “The American Creed,” a statement written by William Tyler Page that was passed as a resolution by the United States House of Representatives in 1918. It cites freedoms such as liberty, equality, individualism and populism and is often referenced by minority groups in response to discrimination.
Minor gave his response to “The American Creed.”
“Every young man or woman who goes into the service of our country are required to raise their right hand and take the oath to solemnly swear to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic. It is amazing to me how those few little words can stick with you your entire life. I raised my hand and said those words 47 years and 12 days ago, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. I think I’ll remember them on my dying bed, as most veterans will also. Those of us that call ourselves veterans really love this country, and we take that oath seriously, just as we take our flag, our National Anthem, and the pledge of allegiance very seriously,” Minor said.
Minor took a subtle approach in addressing those who choose not to stand during the playing of the National Anthem, but Westerman did not. He said college and professional football players get an undue amount of superficial recognition on Saturdays and Sundays, when the real heroes are the men and women who put on a uniform to defend our freedoms.
He mentioned a young man named Harold Sellers who never had the opportunity to play college football because he died serving the country. He then recited a poem he wrote in response to National Football League players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem.
“When you’re at the stadium and old glory takes the field, remember she waves freely because so many have served — so many have been killed. On the subject of taking a knee, it’s more than about rights, it’s about why we are free. Harold Sellers gave you that right hanging helplessly from a tree. For all who want to kneel and say it’s about more than ball, I agree, so stand up and show some respect. Harold Sellers was more of a man than a lot of you all,” Westerman said.
Cotton was the last speaker, taking the podium in the eleventh hour. The Army veteran expressed his gratitude for the armed forces.
“This day has a special meaning for me and my family not just because I served in the Army in Iraq in Afghanistan,” Cotton said. “My father served in Vietnam, my grandfather served in World War II, and as I look out across the audience I see veterans of every war back to and including World War II, and I just want to say thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your service.”
Cotton mentioned a statement White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made a few weeks ago saying that he may be in his most important job, but it wasn’t his best job ever. He said his best job was being a young marine out on the front lines defending our country.
Cotton said that although they served in different wars and at different times, the thing that unites all veterans is their love of this country.
“A deep-seeded patriotism in which we are willing to say that we will go overseas and defend our freedom and defend our fellow citizens, even if it means writing a blank check to the country not knowing what that check might be cashed for,” Cotton said. “Of all the veterans we have serving, the ones that we should remember most are the ones that are still wearing the uniform today all around the world, around the country.”