Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Veterans Day in Red Lodge

Posted By on Wed, Nov 12, 2008 at 5:50 AM

Several months back, during my last sanity break, I listed the reasons why I love the town of Red Lodge, Montana. This post is both a follow-up to that one as well as my own way of saying “thanks” to America’s veterans before it’s no longer November 11.

 

I awoke this morning to a phone call from my friend Dave Lemoine, a retired FBI agent who was born in Cottonport, LA, and who now lives in Red Lodge. Dave, an inveterate Cajun, never goes out-of-doors without wearing his LSU cap. He called to tell me to get up and meet him at Roosevelt Middle School because his son, Tee Joe, was scheduled to play “Taps” at the Veterans Day ceremony. Tee Joe is like a nephew to me, so this was an opportunity not to be missed.

 

The ceremony was a beautiful slice of Americana: the middle school band and choir played and sang patriotic songs; the student council president read a message from President Bush; other students gave readings and played a video that they put together in honor of veterans — and a group of several dozen local vets showed up to be honored as well as to honor their departed comrades.

 

The most poignant moment of the ceremony was not on the program. Near the end of the observance, the school principal called out the individual names of the veterans who had gathered that day, along with their respective military branches, ranks and dates of service. Most of the vets stood and waved — or saluted — when their names were called. These were not young men. Most had fought in Korea, a few in Vietnam, and a very few others in World War II. One of them, Harry Sibary, sat in the middle of the front row. Harry had served as an Army cook from 1942-1945. He has to be at least 84 years old now. When his name was called, Harry struggled mightily to stand up — but his walker was not handy at the time. The gym fell silent as he tried for several awkward moments to push himself to his feet with his arms.

 

click to enlarge redlodgevets.jpg

 

 

That’s when the two vets seated on either side of him — Bayard Nearpass (seated on the right in the photo) and Herb Millison — instinctively turned and lent him a hand. At their own advanced ages, it was still a struggle, but eventually Harry made it to his feet and gave the crowd a wave. That sight reminded me of so many images we’ve seen of soldiers in combat selflessly helping a wounded comrade to safety, often ignoring their own wounds in the process. Neither Bayard nor Herb asked Harry if he needed a hand, and he certainly didn’t ask for help; they just did what the moment required.

 

Anyone who read Tom Brokaw’s wonderful tribute the The Greatest Generation will understand why I found this moment so touching. It was an honor just to be in the same room as these guys.

 

We don’t say it enough, but … thanks, vets. 

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