Demystifying Veterans’ Day

PUNXSUTAWNEY — A Veterans’ Day ceremony was held by VFW Post 2076, American Legion Post 62 and Punxsutawney Ladies’ Auxiliary at First Baptist Church, Thursday.

Guest speaker Ira Sunderland, a Korean War veteran and past county commissioner, addressed the audience with the simple question of: “What is Veterans’ Day?”

“I’ll venture to say if we go down the street and ask 10 people, ‘What does Veterans’ Day really mean,’ I’ll bet there would be nine people who’d say, ‘I really don’t know,’” Sunderland said.

Confusion of Memorial Day — which honors deceased soldiers — with Veterans’ Day — which is set aside to show tribute to veterans who served honorably in the military during war and peace times — is a common error, he explained.

The federal holiday originated as Armistice Day following World War I, Sunderland said. The word “Armistice,” however, celebrated only those veterans who served in that war.

In 1954, he said, the 83rd U.S. Congress amended the exclusion by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting the word “Veterans,” officiating Nov. 11 as a day to honor veterans of all wars.

The Punxsy ceremony, Sunderland said, was put on “to honor those brave men and women currently serving and those who have served in the past.”

Present were veterans who served in World War II, Korea, Grenada, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The ceremony included a medley of service songs, in addition to an invocation by the Rev. Ralph Depp in which he spoke on the issue of military “flashbacks.”

“These poor soldiers coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq, they’re, what you might say, haunted by these flashbacks,” he said.

He and his wife, Depp said, no longer share a bedroom as a result of a night when, while having a Korean War flashback during his sleep, he tried to choke her thinking she was a Korean soldier.

“You don’t know what it’s like unless you’ve been there,” Depp said. “I’ve been there.”

Three Punxsutawney Girl Scout Troops presented Veterans’ Day projects focused on women who served in the military or contributed to the nation during times of war, including Rosie the Riveter, the “We can do it” poster-woman who represented American women working in factories during World War II.

Certificates of appreciation were presented to the Rev. Mary Lewis, for the use of the church; Carol Kuntz, for playing the piano; Depp, for giving the invocation; the Girl Scouts, for their presentations; Sunderland, for his role as guest speaker; and Mason Stiver, for playing “Taps” at the conclusion of the ceremony.

Additionally, the late Russell Depp, Marine Corps veteran, was acknowledged by an emotional audience. The 70-year-old former Punxsutawney resident, who passed away in August, contributed greatly to the local VFW building. His family in attendance was presented with a shadow box to hold his burial flag.

Master of Ceremonies Ray Depp, who served in the Cold War and Vietnam, said the comradeship of fellow veterans is “something that stays with you all your life.”

Sunderland concluded his Veterans’ Day address with a message from the perspective of the U.S. flag.

Old Glory, he said, used to proudly lead parades while men would remove their hats and cover their hearts.

“Do you remember?” he said. “What happened? I’m still the same, old flag.”

Presently, Sunderland said, Americans stand with their hands in their pockets and only give a slight glance to Old Glory.

“Now I don’t feel as proud as I used to,” he said. “Have you forgotten what I stand for and where I’ve been?”

The colors, Sunderland said, not only represent the country but also all of those who died fighting for it.

“So when you see me, stand straight, place your right hand over your heart,” he said. “I’ll salute you by waving back, and I know you’ll remember me.”