Honor, remembrance and a debt of gratitude could be found throughout Big Spring on Friday, especially in the Dorothy Garrett Coliseum.
Area residents gathered in the Howard College Hawks basketball arena, not to watch a ball game or attend an arts and crafts show or health fair, but to pause for a moment, honor and give thanks to all veterans.
“There are many brave patriots who have sacrificed their youth defending our freedom and we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude,” said Daniel Marsh, West Texas VA Health Care System director. “It is our obligation, duty, privilege and most importantly, honor, to serve and care for these veterans.”
The annual service — which has been conducted for more than 20 years — included patriotic music performed by the Big Spring Sixth Grade Honor Choir, Coahoma Choir and Howard College Hawk Jam. U.S. Ret. Air Force veteran John Fisher served as master of ceremonies, once again, while the Howard County Volunteer Fire Department posted the colors. Ret. Army veteran Mike Tarpley played Taps and Army POW (prisoner of war) Sgt. William H. King led the audience in the pledge of allegiance.
“I was the first draftee in Mitchell County in 1941 after Pearl Harbor,” Sgt. King said. “I was 18 years old.”
King was captured in North Africa in Casablanca. His brothers, who were also serving at the time, made it through Normandy and Beijing without being captured. For two years, King was a POW in Stuttgart, Germany. As a result of his service he carries three Purple Hearts.
In recognition of Veterans Day, Big Spring Mayor Tommy Duncan read a proclamation honoring veterans and declaring Nov. 7 through Nov. 13 as Veterans Awareness Week in Big Spring.
“I encourage everyone to give full support to all veterans each and every day, especially today,” Duncan said.
Ret. Lt. Col. Robert Weinkle — who served 21 years in the Marines — served as guest speaker.
“Today we should leave all the other stuff that has been consuming the media lately — from the Occupy Wall Street crowd to the nail biting on who is going to get voted for on Dancing With the Stars — behind us and focus on Veterans Day,” Weinkle said. “... because today is Veterans Day.”
During his speech, Weinkle spoke about touchstones — defined as a test or criterion for developing the quality of something — and the direct relation that definition has to the nation's veterans.
“We look to them (veterans) in a time of crisis to steady our nerves and do what needs to be done to defend our nation,” Weinkle said.
He made the comparison of the nation's veterans to rocks, which America builds its foundation on, and expressed how, despite their toughness and sturdiness, they have a tender side when it comes to love for their country and fellow veterans.
“Veterans are hard as a rock and serve as the foundation of our communities. They are unbendable and have unwavering support. They can be hard as a rock, but at times can be flowery soft, kind of, in a way to express love to a fellow veteran and even to our country because there is no greater love than this of a fellow veteran who laid down his life for a friend,” Weinkle said.
Veterans consider the link to the constitution one of their “touchstones,” Weinkle said, which goes back to the oath that they take, to solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic and bear true faith and allegiance to the same. They also consider their fellow veterans as their touchstone.
“ If you ask a veteran why they are fighting, most of the time they won't tell you it's for country, or for the flag or their branch of service. They will tell you they are fighting for that person on the left and right of them. That particular time, that particular day, that particular month,” Weinkle said. “That says a lot because those fellow veterans that have served or are serving is a major touchstone.
“I encourage everyone to take the time to stop and smell the flowers daily. Look at the paper, thank a vet and make sure Veterans Day is our national touchstone.”