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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Area veterans are honored

Monday, November 12, 2001

Major Mitchell Cassell of the United State Marine Corps is greeted before speaking at a Veterans Day service in Sikeston.
SIKESTON - Veterans Day is a bit different this year. "It's a lot more significant," said Lee Bloomfield, a junior at Sikeston High School, just before the Veterans Day Ceremony at the SHS Field House Friday. "We really think about it now."

SHS senior Sandra Williams agreed this year's observance has more meaning than in recent years "because of the terrorism."

Michael Harris, councilman and member of the National Guard for 17 years, noted there was "a lot larger crowd" at the Field House for this year's ceremony.

The ceremony opened with the formal presentation and posting of colors, playing of the national anthem, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer of remembrance by Lt. Commander Gerald Beam, USNR retired.

Blair Moran, chaplain for the Sikeston American Legion Post 114, welcomed those assembled to honor those who "protect and preserve our great way of life."

Steve Taylor, chairman of the Sikeston Veterans Park Committee, said this was the 82nd anniversary of Veterans Day, "established in 1919 by Woodrow Wilson as Armistice Day."

He encouraged visits to Veterans Park located on the site where many attended flight school in preparation for World War II. "There's no display like this within a hundred miles of Sikeston," said Taylor.

Taylor said a hero, as defined in Readers Digest, is one "who places their life on the line for someone they don't even know," crediting policemen and firemen as well as "past and current members of the armed forces."

The honored guest and keynote speaker, test pilot Major Mitchell Cassell of the United States Marine Corp. - a 1983 graduate of Charleston High School - asked veterans to stand and be recognized as he listed, one by one, conflicts and wars fought by American soldiers.

Hailing Veterans Day as being about "patriotism and gratitude," he contrasted the freedoms enjoyed in the United States with descriptions of life under oppressive regimes such as the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Cassell related some of his experiences protecting the Kurds against Iraqi forces while piloting a CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter and said he had developed "a much better appreciation for the life we enjoy here in the United States ... I quit complaining about the small things."

He cautioned against taking the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution for granted as well as those "willing to endure hardship for our country."

Having been in 30 countries on five continents, Cassell said he is proud to come from a country that places a "high value on life, liberty and freedom."

He also discussed Operation Enduring Freedom. "In the past, we've always known who the enemy was," said Cassell. Now, he continued, we are facing "not a visible group" but one made up of many groups from many countries who resort to "sneak attacks" in an attempt to spread terror.

In a lighter moment, Cassell said he read discussion that suggested killing Osama bin Laden could make him a martyr, and imprisoning him may result in hostages being taken. A better alternative would be for special forces to capture bin Laden, perform a sex-change operation, releasing him to "return to the Taliban as a woman," he grinned. "I think this is the best plan yet."

Cassell advised those assembled to honor our veterans by taking advantage of the freedoms they fought to preserve by achieving success and prospering.

He encouraged the assembled veterans to "look around and be proud of what you see."

Although the United States is now facing "a new foe and a new kind of war," Cassell said the end result will be the same: "They will lose."

Following patriotic music by the Sikeston High School band, choir and orchestra and a well-received solo a cappella version of "God Bless America" by Neil Boyd, Tom Austin, a veteran of the Vietnam War and past commander of American Legion Post 114, reminded those gathered that the ritual of removing the POW/MIA flag is a rite observed "all across the nation."

Recalling the recovery and return last year of Cpl. Mason O. Yarbrough's body, Austin predicted there will be more success stories as well as some failures, "but we will not forget."