PUNXSUTAWNEY — The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent. The Great War which had claimed 35 million casualties was finally over.
Today marks the first time since the end of World War I that there is not a living American veteran of that conflict, said Dr. Norman A. “Chip” Hetzler, the guest speaker for the Punxsutawney Veterans’ Day service at the First Baptist Church.
Hetzler said since 1775, America has relied on its citizen-soldiers and an unbroken line of those who believe in duty, honor and country.
“Notice that self is nowhere in that credo,” Hetzler said — Veterans believe in service and moving forward to complete the mission,
regardless of the odds. That’s what makes veterans such good emplo-yees, leaders and members of the community, he said.
Hetzler said those who have also seen combat realize just how fragile is the thread of mortality.
“Because of that, the air they breathe smells a little sweeter, the hugs are felt a little deeper, and the presence of God is seen more readily in the smile of a child,” he said.
Hetzler said Shakespeare evokes the spirit of the soldier in Henry the Fifth’s speech before the Battle of Agincourt: ‘This story shall the good man teach his son, from this day to the end of the world; but we in it shall be remembered — We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that serves with me shall be my brother. And gentlemen now a-bed, shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with.”
“And so, whether a ground-pounder, squid, jarhead, flyboy or that highest-known lifeform, the airborne soldier, I salute you, my brothers and sisters,” Hetzler said. “May our Gracious God bless you, your wonderful families, and the country that we so dearly love.”
Also during the service, Gene Roberts, on behalf of the Punxsy B.P.O.E. No. 301, saluted veterans.
“Ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things, since this country began that’s who are veterans are,” he said. “Young, old, rich, poor, black, white and nearly every category in-between, there are men and women who still serve America in the armed forces.
“Some have endured great hardship, separation from family and drastically altered lifestyles,” he said. “Some have experienced the horrors of war, all sacrificed something so we can enjoy the freedom we have today.”
Roberts cited John Paul Jones’ victory on the high seas in the War of Independence, repurchased by Commodore Matthew C. Perry on Lake Erie in the War of 1812; the prestige of Admiral George Dewey’s victory at Manila Bay in 1898, which was re-won by the naval battle in the high seas in the far distant islands of the Pacific following the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor and Manila during 1941 and led our country to assume a role in World War II, Roberts said.
“What our troops achieved under the Stars and Stripes in World War I, their sons were required to repurchase in Wold War II with the bloody trek across northern Africa, on the beach heads of Europe in the Battle of the Bulge,” he said.
“The flag our American soldiers raised at Iwo Jima is the same flag that was raised in the defense of Inchon and Pork Chop Hill in far off Korea,” Roberts said.
Another generation under the same flag bled to stem the threat of communism in Vietnam, and America’s young people were called again to carry the flag in the defense of the free world in actions in Grenada and Panama.
“Willingly, our brave men and women carried our flag and the honor of the American people in Operation Desert Storm,” Roberts said. “Today, American armed forces carry our flag in Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan and the Phillipines and wherever terrorism may reside.”
The fight against terrorism is the toughest that American has faced, he said. “It’s the greatest challenge our nation has ever seen.”
Roberts said the resurgence of patriotism since the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, has rekindled respect Americans have for their nation and what it stands for.
“It has reminded us of the sacrifices being made by the men and women of our armed forces around the world today,” Roberts said. “Remember, it is the veteran, not the preacher who has given us freedom of religion; it is the veteran, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press; it is the veteran, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech; and it is the veteran, not the campus organizer who has given us freedom to assemble; it is the veteran, not the lawyer who has given us the rite to a fair trial; it is the veteran, and not the politician who has given us the rite to vote.”
Roberts said American troops have not only defended our American way of life but have brought democracy, freedom and liberty to millions of people in the nations near and far.
“To this end we salute our veterans and all Americans who have made our veterans possible,” Roberts said.
Also participating in the Veterans’ Day observance:
• Girl Scout Troops 20292, 20293, 20294, 20605, and 20843 sang “God Bless the USA” to honor the veterans. The scouts also presented the veterans with personally-drawn cards thanking them for their service.
• Special music was provided on piano by Carol Kuntz and “Taps” was played by Punxsutawney band members Kayla Fusco and Samantha Peace.
Invocation and benediction was done by the Rev. Ralph Depp gave the Invocation and benediction, and Raymond Depp was the master of ceremonies.