(Photos by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
"I lost a lot of buddies and I helped save some . . . and some couldn't be saved. It's still difficult to talk about," Robertson said.
The ceremony began outside the Field House with a special flag raising ceremony at 9:30 a.m. The flag raised by the Sikeston National Guard was flown in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2002, and was presented to the City of Sikeston after Monday's ceremony.
Honored guest and speaker retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ted Hardy's son, Lt. Col. Chuck Hardy, an airborne artillery battalion commander for the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne, sent the flag back to his brother, Trey Hardy of Sikeston, so it would be in town for the ceremony.
After the flag was raised, the ceremony continued inside the Field House, where nearly 770 students from Sikeston Public Schools and over 100 area veterans gathered. Members of the Sikeston National Guard Unit, Sikeston VFW Post 3174 and Sikeston American Legion Post 114 were involved with Monday's events.
"A lot of countries wouldn't have been able to perform ceremonies like we are this morning because they don't have the freedom we have," retired U.S. Naval Reserved Lt. Commander Gerald Beam reminded the crowd in his opening prayer of remembrance.
This is the 83rd American Veteran's Day, said Steve Taylor, chairman of the Sikeston Veterans Park Committee. "In 1991, we established the Sikeston Veterans Park to honor the veterans of the Persian Gulf War and it's located at the old airport school where I attended junior high school and where pilots trained," he recalled.
Taylor said a helicopter from the Korean War will be on display at the park soon. He compared it to the helicopter seen on the opening credits of the television show, "M*A*S*H," where wounded personnel were brought in by helicopter. Carol Messmer, whose daughter and son-in-law are serving in Afghanistan, has started "Operation U.S. Flags for our Troops," Taylor told the crowd. American flags or donations to purchase flags are collected by Messmer and sent to troops in Afghanistan and he urged the public to participate in the program.
A decorated combat veteran of Vietnam and recipient of the Silver Star and Purple Heart, Hardy encouraged students to become involved in the military service. He asked them who's going to fill the need for the veterans when the current ones are gone. He said 40 percent, or 10 million, of veterans are 65 and older. Approximately 1,800 veterans are dying nationwide every day.
"You students have already witnessed the despicable attack last September when 3,024 Americans died. You witnessed Americans dying on American soil -- a typical characteristic of a veteran -- but you witnessed it early," Hardy said.
Hardy asked the audience to thank a veteran and welcome them home on Monday, remember the predeceasing veterans and be cognizant of homeland security.
State Rep. and U.S. Army veteran Peter Myers then presented Hardy with a plaque from the Missouri House of Representatives to recognize his accomplishments with the U.S. Army.
When patriotic and organizational music played by the Sikeston High School Band members, several veterans and their spouses wept as the familiar tunes brought back memories of war days.
Toward the end of the ceremony, Moran unexpectedly received a plaque as recognition for his years of dedication and organization of the Veteran's Day ceremony.
"I was definitely surprised. It made me feel good," Moran said about the award he received.
Concluding the ceremony was a 21-gun salute and the playing of "Echo Taps" as a dedication to the prisoners of war missing in action.
"We veterans appreciate the support from the community," Moran said. "We hope the students learned the importance of Veteran's Day today."