Master of Ceremonies Ken Roberts issued a stern disclaimed to begin the 18th annual Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day celebration on Saturday.
“If you don’t like honoring the military and law enforcement, you are in the wrong place,” warned Roberts, the longtime KBEC radio personality.
Those in attendance were absolutely in the right place, as the main ballroom of the Waxahachie Civic Center was filled with hundreds of patriots and their families from Ellis County and surrounding areas. All those gathered to pay tribute to the brave men and women who have kept our great nation safe.
Roberts explained that the event was funded entirely by donations and expressed his appreciation to the generous individuals and businesses that made the morning possible. He also expressed his gratitude to the Texas Department of Public Safety Honor Guard and members of the United States Army that volunteered their time to honor the veterans.
The two groups also presented the folded flag.
The Classic Swing Band and the Reveille Sisters led those in attendance in the singing of the National Anthem followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Songs from the different war eras were also played by the band while other songs were sung by the Reveille Sisters.
A hearty round of applause was given as Roberts gave a "happy birthday" shout out to the United States Marine Corps, which celebrated its 243rd birthday over the weekend. The Marines were established in Philadelphia on November 10, 1775.
After a stirring rendition of “You Raise Me Up” by Casey Needham and Amy Morton, members from the U.S. Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Army were asked to stand for recognition as their respective branch song was played.
Veterans from each war then stood as tribute was paid to them with a song from that era. The wars and conflicts included the Global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf War and Desert Storm, the Cold War, Vietnam War, Korean War, and World War II.
Roberts also read a quote from President Ronald Reagan that addressed there not being any parades to honor the returning veterans from the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Reagan stated those heroes were not acknowledged for their bravery when they returned home. And noted war is "hell on earth" and all veterans deserved to be honored instead of being protested and called names.
The patriots in attendance then joined Needham in singing “God Bless the USA” followed by bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.”
After the singing, tears flowed freely down the cheeks of many patriots as the faces of the Ellis County soldiers who sacrificed their tomorrows so we can have all our todays were shown on the big screen. Many of these heroes were still in their teens when they died in combat.
The Daily Light spoke to several veterans who were in attendance before, during and after the event.
Ennis resident Marshall Allen served in the United States Army from 1967-1970. He said, “I was in Vietnam from 1968-1969. When I left the Army, I served seven years in the Texas National Guard. It feels good to have people honor us."
Marshall spoke of a veteran he was acquainted with who flew bombing raids on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“I like to come out to support the old vets like him. I’m trying to go over to Normandy this year with the Band of Brothers,” he commented.
The Daily Light also spoke with Waxahachie legend, Bob Osborne, a 94-year-old Navy veteran who served as a Seaman First Class on the USS Chester during World War II.
“I was primer man on the 80s guns. The ammunition would be put on the gun and I then out the primer shell in and that is what caused the gun to fire," Osborne remarked. "I love this event and I try to come every year. So many people don’t realize how close Japan came to taking over Pearl Harbor."
Garland resident Navy CPO Retired Weldon Bradley commented that he is happy to be retired fifty years and that he’s still kicking. “I like this event because I enjoy visiting with my old friends,” he said.
Midlothian residents Raymond and Laferne Cuddy also visited with the Daily Light. Raymond is a Korean War vet and the couple have been married over 70 years. When Laferne was asked how they have been married so long she remarked, “We agree on everything.”
Waxahachie residents Carol and Mike Cull were there to honor Carol’s father, Colonel Russell J. Leibfarth, who fought in four wars and was part of a fighter group that Hitler and one of his generals nicknamed “The Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney.” Bodney was the Base they flew out of in England.
For Corsicana residents Sam and Nicky Bryant, the military has been a family affair. Sam recently retired and Nicky will be retiring soon.
World War II veteran Charles Atchley was also in attendance. He fought during the Battle of the Bulge.
The day ended with the laying of a wreath at the Veterans Memorial outside the Civic Center. The DPS gave a 21-gun salute, which was followed by the playing of "Taps." The last event was a flyover with vintage military aircraft.
President Ronald Reagan also had this to say about veterans, “We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared. We will always be free.” As long as we have brave men and women who are willing to serve and protect us and even be willing to die doing it, Reagan’s words will always ring true.