“November 11 of each year is the day we ensure veterans know that we deeply appreciate the sacrifices they have made in their lives to keep our country free,” said Steve Thiele, master of ceremonies for the Fort Benning Veterans Day ceremony, addressing dozens of Soldiers and civilians gathered outside Ridgway Hall Nov. 11.
In 1918, the day was called Armistice Day to celebrate the end of World War I, he said. It later became known as Veterans Day, recognized by Congress in 1954 as a day to honor veterans from all wars.
The ceremony included a reading of the 2010 presidential proclamation on Veterans Day, a moment of silence and a playing of Taps. Retired Col. Ralph Puckett, a Ranger Hall of Fame inaugural inductee, was the keynote speaker.
“Less than one half of one percent of Americans have volunteered to serve,” Puckett said. “Veterans Day is observed each (year) to honor those who have answered that call to duty.”
Puckett, who later earned two Distinguished Service Crosses, one in Korea and one in Vietnam, said he remembered the first time the reality of war set in — walking home from church with his dad at the age of 5 or 6.
“I saw a man on crutches — one leg, the first amputee I’d ever seen,” he said. “He held a handful of red paper flowers gave one to my dad, and my dad gave him some money. After, I asked my dad what was that all about, and he said, ‘That man was a veteran. He served in World War I. He lost his leg in that conflict.’”
“My dad went on to explain that those red paper flowers were in memory of the poppies that grew in Flanders Field in Belgium where so many of the Allied soldiers, American and others, had given their lives.”
Americans live free, Puckett said, because of the millions of service members who have and are deployed in the cause of liberty.
George Ward, a veteran of the China-Burma-India theater of World War II and honorary member of the 75th Ranger Regiment, said he regularly attends Veterans Day ceremonies.
“I think it’s important to remember everything. Everybody had a part in it. We didn’t have (any) deadbeats,” said the veteran, who was drafted into the Army in 1944. “And Soldiers today — they’re magnificent. We’re safe because of the military personnel, the sacrifices they’ve made in all wars.” Command Sgt. Maj Jeffery Stitzell, battalion sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. In his experience, Stitzell said he has seen Americans give Veterans Day its due.
“My two days that mean something to me are Veterans Day and Memorial Day,” he said. “You can’t forget it. We’ve had millions die — that’s why we’re free. We’ve had millions wounded — that’s why we’re free. It’s for those with (us) and those that have come before.”
Stitzell said Veterans Day is about more than just veterans: it’s also about those who support veterans, such as family and service members who haven’t yet deployed.
“Working on Sand Hill, it’s the future, too, the privates we’re training,” he said. “They are the future of America.”
“We live free because thousands of young men and women are deployed in more than 100 places throughout the world,” Puckett said. “How fortunate we are. They are our veterans of tomorrow. We owe them everything.”