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  November 25, 2011


Prayer luncheon honors veterans’ sacrifices, contributions

By Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff

Veterans were honored for their sacrifices and contributions to the military and society at a Veterans Day Prayer Luncheon Nov. 9 at Fort McCoy.

The program included a guest speaker from the Minnesota Army National Guard, special testimonials from Soldiers/veterans and patriotic music.
PHOTO: Tracy Woodman shares her thoughts of what being a veteran means to her with attendees of Fort McCoy’s Veterans Day Prayer Luncheon. Photo by Patrick Loftesnes
Tracy Woodman shares her thoughts of what being a veteran means to her with attendees of Fort McCoy’s Veterans Day Prayer Luncheon. (Photo by Patrick Loftesnes)

Garrison Chaplain (Col.) Ken Lawson of the Fort McCoy Religious Support Office (RSO) introduced the program and welcomed the attendees.

“Veterans Day is one of the few American holidays that still retains its original meaning,” Lawson said. “This is a holiday where we remember those men and women who have served in the armed forces, who have served, or fought or died to help preserve the freedoms that we enjoy today.”

Chaplain (Col.) Tom Phelan, the garrison site support chaplain, said Veterans Day traces its beginnings to World War I, when the Armistice came into effect Nov. 11, 1918 and ended the war.

President Woodrow Wilson designated Nov. 11, 1919 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day, a day to honor World War I veterans.

After World War II, the remembrance was expanded to include all veterans, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law May 26, 1954.

On June 1, 1954 Congress amended the act to change the word “Armistice” to “Veterans.”

“(The change) focuses the attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day,” Phelan said. “It’s a celebration, an honor of veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and to sacrifice for the common good.”

Phelan said the comments the RSO received from attendees after the event indicated they believed the event was heartfelt and wonderfully done and helped capture the essence of Veterans Day.

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) John Morris of the Minnesota National Guard was the guest speaker.

He thanked Fort McCoy for its excellent treatment of Minnesota Soldiers who trained at and deployed from Fort McCoy.

“I’m honored to be with you, in the presence of veterans, Families, and Department of Defense civilians and those serving in the military on Veterans Day,” Morris said. “For me it’s a very special occasion, and I want to tell you why.”

On Aug. 28, 1944, 12 Americans were killed near Épernay, France in a battle that occurred shortly after the D-Day landing at Normandy. The Germans fortified a bridge they knew the Americans had to pass over.

Morris said he knew the story from two vantage points. The first was the after-action report. The other was from his mother, who was in a cellar praying for their safety all night during the fierce fighting.

“In the morning, she came outside to see the American convoys sprinting through the village, and, for the first time in five years, they were free,” he said. “I know who purchased my freedom. So Veterans Day for me is a day to look back and recalibrate the cost of freedom.”

World War I was fought on her property, and, after her experience in World War II, she didn’t want to go through that again. She married his father, a career Airman, and wanted to raise her children in freedom.

Because the volunteer force has made the concept of being a veteran more distant to people in the general population, Veterans Day events/observances, like the one at Fort McCoy, will become more important to continue the ideals of being a veteran, he said.

“So we renew our commitment,” Morris said. “Those of us who have served in the current conflicts, the Desert Storm veterans here, those who have been in the Balkans, we who are veterans, this is our day to look left and right and say, ‘What do we need to do help our society continue in this war effort?’”

On this day, veterans can look ahead to their grandchildren, he said.

Veterans need to look ahead and contribute to society to ensure America continues to be great and remains the dominant society in the world or other societies, such as the Chinese, will dominate the U.S., he said. Veterans can’t forget the toll of past wars.

“Today we redouble our commitment to service,” he said. “America must remain free. We’re determined we are going to be part of the next greatest generation.”

Sgt. 1st Class Greg Henry of the Regional Training Center-Central and Tracy Woodman shared their thoughts of what being a veteran meant to them.

Henry said he came to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1984. He said his Family was on welfare and it was rough.

“I remembered thinking what can I do to become a citizen of the United States,” he said. “I was working in construction, digging ditches at that time.”

Henry decided to join the Army National Guard to help achieve the goal. He was mobilized after 9/11. He talked to lawyers, doctors, and business people who gave everything up to serve their country and fight for freedom.

Henry also served in Haiti and saw children in poverty.

Today, he and his wife live in Sparta with their Family and work to give back to the community and to help reduce poverty in that area. Everyone is in the U.S. for a purpose and has to remember it, he said.

Woodman said as the spouse of a military member, a veteran herself and the mother of a Soldier currently serving, she looked at the military as a place to do her job, and if she made friends along the way that would be OK. Her daughter caught the spirit when she helped them set up several displays to exhibit during Veterans Day presentations.

“Veterans Day means three things to me,” Woodman said. “Remembering to honor those who have served and those who have fallen; encouraging and educating the generations to come about patriotism; and reminding others that service by our Soldiers does not stop when we leave the military, because our dedication to protect and defend continues.”

The event also included the recognition of veterans in attendance who served during the time of war dating back to World War II and special patriotic music/testimonials from retired Master Sgt. John Wood and his wife and Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Perry Schmitt of the 88th Regional Support Command and his wife, among others.

“The event closed with prayers for veterans, military Families, and for the nation,” Lawson said. “Everyone present stood at attention as Taps was played to conclude the well-attended event.”

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