"Since Nov. 11, 2003, we have experienced more painful losses in our fight against terrorism, both men and women paying the ultimate sacrifice along with those suffering severe battlefield wounds," said Blair Moran, chaplain of the Sikeston American Legion Post 114, in his welcoming remarks. "We truly thank them for their service and sacrifice."
Steve Taylor, chairman of the Sikeston Veteran Park Committee, noted this is the 85th anniversary since the holiday was first observed Nov. 11, 1919, as Armistice Day and that Veterans Day has been celebrated at the Sikeston High School Field House for more than a decade.
Taylor also spoke about Sikeston Veterans Park which is located on the site of the Harvey Parks Airport where pilots were trained for World War II and now displays "remembrances of those who have fought wars."
Most recently, the Veterans Park Committee has completed the renovation of a Korean War-era helicopter, Taylor said: "The site is now ready to mount it within the next week."
Taylor also mentioned Sikeston's Charlie Company 1140th Engineer Battalion which is presently serving in Iraq. "You will not be hearing them give the 21-gun salute they usually give because they are in harm's way," he said.
The honored guest and speaker, Major Brent A. Cotton of the U.S. Air Force, was introduced by his uncle, Moran, who said: "For the past eight years he has been on active duty and been deployed throughout the world in South Korea, England, Alaska, Saudi Arabia and is now serving with the Eighth Air Force in Barksdale Air Base, La., and in January he will be back in the Persian Gulf region helping in the fight against an evil force that is bent on destroying our great nation."
Cotton opened by saying he doesn't think his family ever dreamed he would one day be giving a Veterans Day speech at a Sikeston assembly as a representative of the U.S. Air Force.
"Only my uncle Blair could have predicted this day - I believe he has been planning it since the day I put on my uniform," he said.
As many of the area veterans gathered for the ceremony had been in the past, our armed forces are presently engaged in combat "to preserve the freedoms that we hold dear, freedoms such as speech, religion and assembly," according to Cotton. "They are fighting to give those rights of freedom to an oppressed people."
He said the U.S. flag is a "steady reminder that there is something greater in all of us," and that, whether with a salute or a hand over the heart, it is important to respond to the flag.
Addressing the veterans, Cotton first thanked them for their sacrifices.
"We owe you a debt of gratitude that we can never repay. However, now is not the time to rest - we need your last full measure of devotion," Cotton said. "I challenge you to keep talking to us. Keep telling us your war stories - both of bravery and even of defeat. We need you to pass on those qualities that sustained you in times of war and times of peace. Don't leave us without passing on to us that which made you the greatest generation."
Cotton then shared a poem he wrote while in second grade: "I love to wear grandpa's badges on my shirt to school, I tell the kids about World War II. I wear his hat upon my head and show his patches, too."
He said at the time he didn't know much about World War II, but he knew his grandfather had served in the Army, his father had served in the Navy and his uncle had been in Vietnam.
Relating how his grandfather's badges and patches had been passed on to him, he asked veterans to "pass those things on to your sons and daughters" and to share memories "with anyone who will listen."
He urged the students gathered to listen to those stories.
"I still remember my commissioning when my grandfather swore me into the service of the nation he so faithfully served. I still remember the smell of the aircraft carrier my father served on," Cotton said. "Students, the day will come when you will have the opportunity to volunteer as a member of our nation's armed forces. I challenge you to take that chance to wear the uniform. Learn the values that compelled these veterans. Understand why tears form in their eyes and pride stirs in their hearts when Old Glory passes them by."
Cotton said Veterans Day is not only a day for remembrance, but a day for the students to consider their role.
"Will you support our troops from home, will you pray for their safety, will you support the families of the fallen, will you seek out a veteran and thank them for their service, or will you put on a uniform of your own and actively defend the United States of America?" he asked.
Cotton ended by saying that while he serves in the armed forces with humility, it is with pride that he stands beside the flag "in honor of our veterans of the past, present and, yes, the future."
The ceremony began with presentation and posting the colors by the Sikeston Department of Public Safety.
The Sikeston High School band, choir and orchestra followed with the National Anthem, Dale Capps, commander of the Sikeston VFW Post 3174, led those assembled in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Rev. Allen Shriver, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said a prayer of remembrance.
After Cotton's remarks and following some patriotic music by the high school's musicians and singers, the ceremony ended with the "Lest We Forget" ceremonial removal of the POW/MIA flag and Echo Taps.