County remembers those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day

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It was a beautiful, sunny day on Monday as members of the Switzerland County community gathered at the Veterans Memorial on the lawn of the Switzerland County Courthouse for the county’s annual Memorial Day observance and program. This year, the program was coordinated by the Vevay VFW Post #5396, with member George Hubert serving as the emcee for the event.

The Vevay Music Club opened the program with the singing of the National Anthem; and Hubert led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Navy veteran K.C. Banta, who also served as the featured speaker for the program, gave the invocation; and then recognized veterans in attendance, asking veterans to stand as he read the different wars that this country has been involved in.

“On behalf of the Oscar L. Rosenberger V.F.W. Post #5396, it is our honor and our privilege to host today’s Memorial Day program, “Banta said. “We thank everyone for attending, and we’d like to recognize all of the veterans in attendance today.”

As the veterans from the different war eras stood, large rounds of applause followed, from World War II through the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Thank you to all service men and women, both past and present, for serving this great nation,” Banta continued. “We continue to pray for the safe return of all of our military personnel who are fighting the war of terrorism. We honor our comrades, those who have paid the supreme sacrifice for our freedom. Also, to emphasize the V.F.W. pledge to honor the dead by helping the living.”

Banta continued by telling the crowd about the origins of Memorial Day, tracing back to the end of the Civil War in 1866, with the first official observation being held in 1868.

Huber then read to the crowd an order that had been given by Commander in Chief John Logan on May 30th, 1868, which issued the directive to place flowers and other decorations on the graves of those who had died in defense of this country.

“In observance, no form of ceremony is described, but posts and comrades will, in their own way, arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit,” Hubert read about the first Memorial Day directive. “We organize comrades as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things of preserving and strengthening those binding and eternal feelings which have bound us together. The soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion. What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead. Who made their breast a barricade between our country and its foes.”

Next, Sharon Schmitt of the V.F.W. Ladies Auxiliary, who spoke about the importance and significance of the POW/MIA table that was located near the speaker’s stand.

“As a symbol of missing and captive service members, the MIA/POW table originated during the time of the Vietnam War. All known American Prisoners of War were released in 1973, following the Paris Peace Agreement between North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the United States,” Schmitt read. “While the agreement ended the war, open wounds were left in America’s national consciousness. An unpopular war in America, the Vietnam War brought hard times to our nation, and even more so to its veterans. The soldiers and military personnel sent to serve there in active combat, returned to an unfriendly homeland that largely didn’t honor their service and sacrifice of self on foreign soil. However, out of those troubling times came new outward symbols of caring for our MIA and POW service members.”

Hubert then told the audience that they were invited to participate in a special portion of the program, in which balloons that had the names attached of Switzerland County soldiers who had died in service to the country were released. He asked that if any family members of the soldiers were in attendance, he asked them to have the honor of releasing that balloon; and if no family members were present, he asked if a member of the audience would step forward.

The balloons were then released from in front of the courthouse.

Banta then spoke about his personal reflections on his time in the military and also what the Memorial Day holiday meant to him. He noted that his late wife, Barbara, attended the ceremony each year and wore the military hat of her father in his honor; and on Monday his daughter was wearing the hat to continue the tradition and also to honor her mother’s memory.

“I wouldn’t dare try and do one of these without talking about the home folks,” Banta said, “Because the home folks and families at home are just as important as the trooper out there carrying a weapon. I know that when I was a young kid women walked down a gravel road to the state highway and caught an Army busy to Charlestown to make powder, and they worked down there 10-12 hours and then they’d ride that Army bus and get off at the end of the road and walk back and do the chores. Don’t ever try and tell me that without the homefront supporting the troops, the troops are useless.”

Banta said that the United States has been a country for 241 years, and the country has been involved in a conflict for 221 of those years.

“We’ve lost over 1.2 million Americans in combat somewhere in the world,” Banta said. “Our own Civil War, over 700,000 died in that war. The biggest battle ever fought in the history of the Western Hemisphere was the Battle of Gettysburg, right here in our own country. How crazy is that? 51,000 were killed or wounded at Gettysburg.”

The Vevay Music Club then sang a medley of the songs of each branch of the military, asking veterans to stand when they heard the anthem of their military branch.

The club then led everyone in the singing of “God Bless America”.

The ceremony ended with the traditional 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps”.