There were no World War II veterans at the assemblies Thursday, Nov. 11.
For many years, they were in attendance, several even wore their old uniforms. Then, one by one, they passed on.
This year, in 2021, there were veterans present -- male, female, Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and National Guard -- veterans of all ages and representing those who served both stateside and overseas.
As guest speaker Major Braxton Hurst said: "Men and women who raised their right hands writing a blank check to the United States of America for up to and including their lives. Americans have been fighting and dying for their country for over 240 years... Americans have always aimed high and dreamed big."
"Whether it's our independence, ending slavery, two world wars, containing Communism, fighting a global war on terror or being prepared for the unknown, we owe our very way of life and the world we live in today to the veterans," Hurst said.
"It's up to us to live a good life, a life of freedom that these young men paid the price for," Hurst said tearfully after telling of two young men who died in service to their country. "According to the VA, only 5% of the American population are veterans. These soldiers come from all walks of life from around the country -- black, white, rich, poor, Christian, non-believers, Democrats, Republicans, married and single. None of that matters in the military. When you serve together, you're a team and you need each other to accomplish your mission.
"This is one of the main things that makes serving in the American military a unique experience and forms bonds that last a lifetime," Hurst said. "While there are many professions and occupations that are essential to our way of life, there's only one group that tirelessly works to secure and protect it -- we call these men and women that have served veterans. They may be your mom and dad, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, or friends ... make sure you take time to thank them."
"I believe the best way we can honor our veterans is to earn it ... the best way to do that is a question I leave each of you to answer yourselves," Hurst said, adding that we are working together to form a more perfect union.
"The fate of our country depends on us -- not the politicians, the government.... we're all on the same team," Hurst said. "It is for all of us to hand this great country to our kids."
In the afternoon assembly, U.S. Representative Steve Womack, also a veteran, said everyone who put on a uniform fought for our right to share our opinions, to disagree, to live free.
During a recent trip to southern France, I learned more about the Resistance in France during World War II and repeatedly heard residents of the area praise the "American boys" who saved their country.
According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 240,329 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2021. There are 2,093 World War II veterans alive in Arkansas.
The generation now called millennials may not have seen war, nor know much about the conflicts that were endured to provide them with the safety and prosperity they now enjoy, but they can listen to the tales of those who've gone before them and appreciate that the freedom we enjoy is not free, it's been bought by many who've gone before us.
May we honor those who serve, not just one day a year, but regularly.
Thank you, veterans, for serving for us all.
Editor's note: Annette Beard is the managing editor of The Times of Northeast Benton County, chosen the best small weekly newspaper in Arkansas for five years. A native of Louisiana, she moved to northwest Arkansas in 1980 to work for the Benton County Daily Record. She has nine children, six sons-in-law, a daughter-in-law, nine grandsons, four granddaughters and two more granddaughters due soon. The opinions expressed are those of the author. She can be reached at [email protected]