POWHATAN – Powhatan County recently paid tribute to the men and women who have served in the nation’s armed forces with special Veterans Day tributes.
Local organizations, schools and individuals used music, performance, and special speakers to draw attention to the sacrifices made by veterans and to honor them for their service.
Several of the events are annual tributes to veterans. On Nov. 8, Powhatan Elementary School invited a large number of veterans and family members to attend the annual Veterans Day Salute put on by fifth-graders.
Powhatan Post #201 of the American Legion of Virginia kept the tradition alive of holding a special ceremony at 11 a.m. on Veterans Day. This year marked the 100th anniversary of the first Armistice Day, which took place on Nov. 11, 1919, one year after the Allies of World War I and Germany signed an armistice to end hostilities.
The 15th annual Huguenot Springs Veterans Day Candlelight Service also honored those who have served and fought in America’s conflicts through the years and the sacrifices they made.
Other recent events held to honor Veterans Day included the annual Veterans Day Musical Show held Nov. 3 at Powhatan High School and special activities the local schools did with their students to impart the importance of the recognition.
Heroes don’t always wear capes
The fifth-graders at Powhatan Elementary School entertained a packed room on Friday, Nov. 8 as they read poems and sang songs to honor those who served in a program coordinated by music teacher Gina Dickerson.
The fifth-graders performed songs such as “America, My Home,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and a patriotic mash-up of “Land That I Love” and “America, the Beautiful.”
Powhatan Middle School band students performed the during the show, and the Powhatan High School JROTC Color Guard posted the colors.
The keynote speaker for this year’s event was Chief Warrant Officer 5 James Csomay, the father of two students at the school and a member of the U.S. Army Reserves since 1992.
During his speech, Csomay talked about the origin of Veterans Day and how it evolved through the years. He spoke about how people celebrate the day and recognize the importance of what the members of the military do for the nation.
He shared some of his own experiences in the Reserves, including the friends he made and his one-year deployment to Iraq, which he called a great turning point in his life that made him better appreciate what he has today.
Also during the ceremony, Csomay recognized the dozens of veterans sitting in the back of the room watching the program.
“I am very proud to see the turnout today of all the great veteran men and women here. These people have huge hearts, and they have sacrificed more than we could ever understand. They have given immense time away from their families, away from their jobs, and many have lost friends along the way,” he said. “They missed soccer games, and football games, and baseball games. They missed birthdays, they missed holidays, and some of them missed the birth of their child. But these veterans are the reason that the United States of America is such an awesome place to live.”
Near the end of the performance, Dickerson read the name of the 54 veterans in attendance and asked them to stand and be recognized individually. The school also continued the tradition of playing the different military branch medleys and having the veterans stand for their branch’s song.
Overcoming Murphy’s Law
At the beginning of American Legion Post #201’s annual Veterans Day ceremony, post commander Chuck Schirra explained that he wasn’t originally supposed to be the event’s keynote speaker.
The program was supposed to be fuller and include a musical performance, but circumstances intervened and people couldn’t make it. So, Schirra, a U.S. Navy veteran of 26 years, stepped forward to speak.
The bulk of Schirra’s speech focused on the United States’ form of government and how it compares to other nations. It was part history lesson and part English lesson as he tried to get down to the root of words people use without knowing their full and true meaning sometimes, he said.
For Americans, some of the most important terms to the country’s past and future are Americanism, democracy, and capitalism, Schirra said.
“You need all three to make this country function the way it should,” he said.
Schirra juxtaposed the meaning of those words against terms such as socialism, fascism, communism, and anarchy. In particular, he took aim at calls for socialism and how he feels it hasn’t worked when it has been tried before, both in this nation and in other countries around the world.
In the end, the point of talking about these theories of governing and examples we have studied in history was to remind people to “be vigilant,” Schirra said.
“Veterans fought and died to defend our democratic form of government. Veterans, we took an oath, and people in the American Legion take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of all enemies domestic and foreign,” he said.
Gone but not forgotten
As always, the annual Huguenot Springs Veterans Day Candlelight Service celebrated Veterans Day while also looking through the lens of those who served in earlier American conflicts, especially the Civil War. The event is always sponsored by the J.E.B. Stuart Camp #1343 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Huguenot Springs Cemetery Foundation.
Set in the Huguenot Springs Cemetery, which was lit with candles throughout the cemetery, it was a simple ceremony that included music by Pipe Major David W. Hinton of the Virginia Scots Guards; a by a wreath laying ceremony, and an artillery salute by Knibb’s Battery.
Keynote speaker J. A. Barton Campbell is a retired U.S. Army Reserves colonel whose speech was titled “Missing in Action, but not in our Hearts.”
Cambell started by talking about the Civil War era, paying special attention to the roughly 250 men buried in Huguenot Springs Cemetery. Some are known, but “more than half are lost to our consciousness.”
Campbell wondered about the people these men left behind and whether word ever reached them of the fate of their husband, father, brother, son, or friend. He named men who had served through the years, including ones from his own family. He spoke about the unbearable conditions the men faced during their service but also the way they endured those conditions and dangers to fight for a cause they believed in.
In the same way, men and women who served in the years that followed upheld the tradition of fighting and standing their grown under untenable conditions, he said. Campbell spoke of the service members serving today around the globe in places such as the DMZ in Korea, the “yeoman on board a Navy ship somewhere in the South China Sea who will miss Thanksgiving and Christmas away from his family while he stands watch against the ever present threat of our enemies,” or the “marine in Afghanistan who doesn’t know if the next patrol will bring life or death.”
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.