News: Local military, community unite to honor nation’s veterans in Chesapeake
Story by Staff Sgt. Ashley Hawkins
NORFOLK, Va. - The dimly-lit South Norfolk Community Center gymnasium existed in a state of near complete silence, with the faint hum of the aging yellow-green ceiling lights providing the only sound as veterans, military personnel, community leaders and members of the Chesapeake Niners Seniors Club clutched roses, miniature U.S. flags and tokens of remembrance of veterans of America’s armed conflicts. Niners members lined the perimeter of the room, stoically holding candles that reflected warmly off the waxed hardwood floor.
This scene was among the many stirring moments of the 2010 Chesapeake Niners Veteran’s Day program Nov. 4. Ten airmen from Langley Air Force Base’s Base Honor Guard joined more than 40 representatives from all five branches of the armed forces in the tribute.
The ceremony opened with a procession of veterans and servicemembers to the applause of nearly 200 guests in attendance. Mary Lou Hill, the event organizer, lead the ceremony, delivering somber recollections of wars past, reflecting on the glory of victory and the pain of losing America’s dedicated men and women as casualties of war.
Chesapeake mayor Dr. Alan P. Krasnoff invoked the patriotic spirit of the annual remembrance and the selflessness of our nation’s veterans in his comments.
Krasnoff said that without the sacrifice and service of the military, he is “absolutely convinced the rights and freedoms privileges we often seem to take for granted would be little more than a memory.”
“Instead our rights are more than fleeting memories -- they are real,” he remarked to great applause.
The program featured the lighting of a lone candle by representatives from each of the five military branches, representing service members who did not return from battle. An extra candle memorialized U.S. Merchant Marines killed at sea during conflict.
Following the candlelight service, veterans and current servicemembers exchanged roses as tokens of mutual respect and friendship, accompanied by patriotic music. What began as a reticent retrospect soon became a festive celebration of American heroes and the preponderance of freedom, as the entire gymnasium burst into song and embrace, sharing stories, kind words and refreshments.
Retired Col. Pete Arturo Carter, a Veteran’s of Foreign Wars member who organized the military’s attendance of the event, emotionally recalled the loss of his brother in the D-Day invasion landing at Normandy, France, and how the annual ceremony keeps his spirit strong.
“I am touched. I guess when you get to be 90 years old, you naturally become emotional,” he said, his eyes moistened with tears. “Serious activities such as this bring tears to my eyes and happiness to my heart.”
Airman 1st Class Jessica Johnson, a Langley Base Honor Guard member, said the ceremony highlighted the importance of remembering our nation’s veterans. Johnson recalled three generations of servicemembers in her family, including her grandfather, father and brother, who have seen combat.
“It’s important as we pass on from generation to generation their memory, how they served, our missing in action, and prisoners of war,” she said. “During a time of war, it’s especially important not to lose faith in our country and stick together.”
As the uniform-clad military members paid homage to the veterans in attendance, the admiration was mutual, according to Airman 1st Class Marcus Cannon, also a Langley Base Honor Guard airman.
“One man came to me and said ‘we need more like you.’ That touched me, and made me so proud,” he said, beaming.
In all likelihood, each servicemember in attendance who has not deployed in support of America’s missions will eventually do so in their career, adding to the long line of veterans who have answered their nations call to arms. Carter asked for volunteers to continue to help pay tribute to America’s veterans, if for just one day a year.
“We’re always happy to have volunteers. They add to our fervor, our beauty, proficiency, efficiency and entertainment,” he said. “The old philosophy is ‘the burden difficult for one is carried easy by many.”