Coal City’s Veterans Day program continues to grow each year, with more attending to honor those area vets who have served in the armed forces.
Only a few years back, the ceremony was held in the meeting room of the Coal City Public Library, with its capacity of 100. The overflow caused the move to the Performing Arts Center at Coal City High School, which is where Saturday’s event was held.
And that’s a good thing, said Charles Brown, Commander of the St. Juvin VFW Post 1336.
“It’s a real positive thing that people are starting to realize the sacrifice veterans have given,” Brown said.
VFW member and U.S. Navy veteran Bill Bomba said he was impressed at the size of the crowd.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “It’s my first time doing this.”
Local veterans spoke at the ceremony with voices of patriotism, remembrance and fervor.
The Coal City High School Madrigals sang beautiful harmony with, “My Country Tis of Thee,” and, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which brought the audience to its feet with salutes and hands over the heart.
The program was of special significance to Madrigals junior Tyler Lehnert, who has two military parents, both of whom served in the U.S. Navy.
The climate of honoring veterans is “one hundred percent different” today, according to Vietnam veteran and VFW member James Richards, than it was when he returned to the states from overseas.
“I hope people will think of veterans as people who have helped out the country and kept it safe,” Richards said before Saturday’s ceremony.
He said he’s glad veterans are getting the respect they deserve today.
Diamond residents Marcia Togliatto and Pat Hoffman attended to show their support and said they admire the veterans for their service.
“We wouldn’t have much of a country without the veterans,” Togliatto said.
During the ceremony, Christopher Hill, of the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, called veterans the “bulldogs of freedom.”
“Veterans Day is a salute to us,” he said. “What I think we all want is to have the love, dedication and sacrifice that we have shown to our country shown back to us.”
Those who serve in the military, Hill added, are truly a band of brothers.
“Some of us are still in the arena,” he said. “We are still a part of that same body, but our roles have changed over time. . . I recognize that our battlefield has changed.”
Other veterans spoke of the need of today’s citizens to honor veterans by voting and serving the community in other positive ways.
Superintendent of Coal City School District, Dr. Kent Bugg, said he is thankful that many area veterans have hands-on relationships with the schools.
“That’s a source of pride and honor for our school district,” he said.
Bugg said it’s important to teach children what the military has done for all of us and about the courage it takes to uphold the democratic principles of our country. Students should be taught to honor veterans’ service through deeds, such as voting and speaking out about injustice.
Saturday’s event also had a military timeline of volunteers dressed in uniforms and carrying items representing each war and conflict in which United States men and women fought, beginning with a Continental soldier.
The timeline also included representatives from the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World Wars I and II including a WAC, the Korean and Vietnam Wars and Desert Shield and Desert Storm. One volunteer also portrayed “Rosie the Riveter,” who represents the many women who worked stateside during World War II in factories and shipyards.
State Representative David Welter said his grandmother was one of them, working at the arsenal during World War II. His grandfather, he said, fought overseas.
Many of the timeline volunteers were veterans, and representatives of the most recent wars had actually served in those conflicts.
Also during the ceremony, Coal City Police Officer Kevin Jones presented two locally restored historic rifles to the Commander of the Coal City American Legion, John Gubbins. One was a WWII Winchester Model 1917 and the other a M-1 Carbene rifle.
State Representative Lindsay Parkhurst summed up the feelings of those in the audience nicely.
“It’s because of you,” Parkhurst said of the veterans, “that Americans sleep peacefully tonight.”