Utahns honor Veterans Day and those who served their country
Taylorsville • The sights and sounds of America surrounded the modern Taylorsville City Hall on a glorious Veterans Day morning Monday.
It would be a day featuring a parade, patriotic music and speeches, flag-waving youngsters from nearby Vista Elementary chanting "USA! USA!" and graying veterans, some still proud of being able to fit in fading uniforms while marching in front of an appreciative crowd.
Red, white and blue bunting hung from the second floor of City Hall. Two city firetrucks used their ladders to form an arch that held up a sign honoring veterans.
High school ROTC cadets, beauty queens and veterans' groups marched past the five flags honoring the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard and monuments standing in the midst of a permanent rose garden in front of City Hall.
On a lonely grass field set aside from the festivities, more than 40 American flags honored Utahns who have died fighting the war on terror since Sept. 11, 2001. Some folks slowly made their way through the flags, stopping to silently honor those who gave their lives.
The parade featured a slice of Americana, with bagpipe bands, police officers on motorcycles, marching cadets, classic cars, a submarine float, candy-throwing veterans, the Polynesian Samoan Chief Council of Utah and groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion.
Tents and chairs surrounded Taylorsville's permanent veterans' plaza, where bronze statues and patriotic sayings honor those who have served.
A Calvin Coolidge quotation, written in stone on the city monument, seemed to capture the spirit of Veterans Day, which first began in 1918 as Armistice Day when, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, fighting in World War I ended.
"The nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten," said the former president.
On this day, at least, no one seemed to want to forget those defenders.
Inside City Hall, remembrances of Taylorsville's veterans filled a glass display case. Chip Henneman brought part of his collection of more than 4,000 pieces of World War II memorabilia, much of which almost seemed as if it came from a different country.
In a time of great political division in America, Henneman's memorabilia showed a time in history when the country came together, made sacrifices and worked for the common purpose by buying war bonds, not using products needed for the war effort and by paying more than lip service to the troops fighting abroad.
In delivering a short keynote address, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, tried to strike the right balance of remembering soldiers who have fought, those who remain in harm's way and those who are returning from the scars of modern battles.
"For our troops, today is another day in harm's way," the congressman told the small gathering as some ate hot dogs and chili provided by local veterans. "For their families, today is another day without a loved one nearby. And, for our injured veterans, today is another day of slow and difficult recovery. So, while it is important that we recognize today, it is far more significant that we spend all of our days determined to keep the promises that we've made to everyone who serves or has served our great country."
Matheson emphasized the importance of the country to keep its promises to the men and women who have served.
"Veterans have been promised good health care when they return home, the chance to heal or begin anew with dignity, and our country must live up to that commitment," he said. "When our troops come home wounded, the process of healing is not undertaken alone. We must also support the families who care for our veterans. Our resolve to support these families bears witness to the character of our nation."
As Matheson spoke, veterans from many conflicts could be seen scattered through the audience. Some served in Korea, others Vietnam. One man proudly wore an Operation Desert Storm T-shirt from the first Iraq war in the early 1990s. Another Marine wore a green shirt with Afghanistan written upon it.
Pearl Harbor veteran Marion Kesler, Army Air Corp member Mel Holley, Navy SEAL Mark Petersen and Vietnam Special Forces member Newell Huntsman were specifically honored for the service by Taylorsville Mayor Jerry Rechtenbach.
The mayor paid tribute to the 1.5 million soldiers currently on active duty and the many generations who had served.
"These are our nation's finest citizens," he said. "They have brought down tyrants, liberated nations and given freedom to 50 million people, earning the proud title of veterans."
There were other Veterans Day events held across Utah as well.
At the University of Utah, the day began with a panel discussion on the role of women in the military followed by a ceremony honoring 11 veterans.
The fifth annual Honorary Colonels Veterans Day Concert, featuring the Utah National Guard's 23rd Army Band and the combined choruses of the Granite School District high schools, was scheduled to be held in the evening at the Huntsman Center.