MOUNT VERNON — Echoing the long-ago ending of the First World War, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month was set aside to salute American veterans of military service. Wednesday, a crowd of hundreds, including a lone protester, turned out on Public Square under the crisp but brightly sunny sky.
Michael Rector, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4027, led the ceremony.
“It makes you feel good as a veteran to see the community support you like this,” Rector said.
Ceremonial events included prayers from the Rev. Warren Outhwaite of the Mulberry Street United Methodist Church, a wreath laying by the Gold Star Mothers, a poppy cross laying by the VFW Ladies Auxiliary, a firing squad salute from the Knox County Joint Veterans Council, and music from the Mount Vernon High School Band, directed by Gary McCutcheon. The onlookers watched, then participated in the raising of the flag and the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Featured speaker was Veterans Service Commissioner George Curry, who said veterans have not communicated their stories to the rest of society at large.
“The traits necessary to survive battle are the same traits that make you successful in life,” Curry said, pointing out the skills of focus, discipline and duty taught by military service. He added that the sacrifices veterans make are the cornerstones of freedom in America. He challenged every citizen to contact a veteran and thank them for their service.
One veteran, Eric Helt, marked the day by quietly circling the square with a sign saying that he thought the United States should get out of both of the wars it is currently waging.
Helt said he respected everyone celebrating the veterans, but said he was concerned that the country’s entire foreign policy in recent decades has consisted of mainly waging war. He sees Iraq and Afghanistan as fruitless tasks. The latter is a particular folly, he said.
“There has been no stable government there in 2,000 years,” Helt said. “Even if we were able to suppress the Taliban, al-Qaida is already all over the world. There’s nothing to win.”
If the wars are to continue, Helt said, the government should reinstate the draft and raise taxes to pay for it instead of borrowing foreign money to wage war.
Veteran Kevin Henthorn wasn’t concerned about Helt’s protest. He said that decades ago, such a scene might have provoked a fight, but today most people have lots of other issues on their minds and aren’t going to bother getting bent out of shape about a voice of dissension.
“I’m not going to spend my time or energy worrying about it,” Henthorn said.