A phone rang in the middle of the night. A groggy "hello" was returned by the voice of an old friend who just needed to talk about what happened decades ago thousands of miles away. Only a fellow soldier would understand.
Photo by Chris Rogers
Winona area service groups are hosting a Veterans Vigil from midnight Sunday to midnight Monday at Veterans Park. From left to right, retired U.S. Marines (USMC) Corporal Ward Anderson, active duty USMC Lance Corporal Steven L. Giebel, retired Navy Captain Don Peterson, USMC Lieutenant Colonel Roger Reitmaier, and retired Navy Corpsman Duane Hegland honored their fellow service men and women.
Getting shot at together forms a powerful bond, said Winona Veteran of Foreign Wars Chaplain Mel Bailey, who served as a Sergeant in the Korean War. "For a lot of people it was a life-changing experience," retired Army Colonel Jeff Lueck said of serving in the military.
With fewer Americans serving than in decades past it has become easier for the general public to forget that sons and daughters are still putting their lives on the line for those who remain at home, Lueck said. "As the wars have dragged on people are getting less and less aware of them because it's not right in the forefront of the news, but we're still there, old and young, men and women, putting their lives at risk," he explained.
For many, the mixed reception Vietnam veterans received is a sad reminder that respect and gratitude for veterans is not a given. Finally, those who risked their lives in the jungles and mountains of Southeast Asia have been encouraged to come to public recognitions of service, Lueck said. "They're finally getting the thanks they deserve."
On the anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of World War I, Winonans will join citizens across the country in celebrating their veterans. For years, Winona area service organizations have held a Veterans Vigil, a 24-hour ceremony in which veterans take shifts standing watch all through the day and night, in remembrance of those who are currently serving.
"When I'm on watch it reminds me of being on duty [in Korea], especially if there's foul weather," Bailey said of the vigil, which he has served in year after year. When asked why he stands out in the snow and rain in the middle of the night every year, Bailey explained, "I don't want to forget what it means to have someone out there right now. They're in places where they're not getting any credit, but they're still getting shot."
Bailey and Lueck explained that for them, Veterans Day is about honoring the people currently serving, but it is still nice for them personally to be recognized for the service they offered their country. Lueck reminded citizens that while Memorial Day is a solemn tribute to those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty, "Veterans Day is kind of a happy event, a time to say thanks."
Winona area veterans' groups and friends will host a ceremony with speeches from veterans, active duty personnel, and a cannon salute on Monday, November 11, at 11 a.m. at Veterans Park. Historic re-enactors will perform during the day. The "dugout" below the Lake Park bandshell will be open to offer hot chocolate and showcase displays of historic military uniforms and equipment. The public is also invited to observe the Veterans Vigil, which will run from midnight on Sunday to midnight on Monday at Veterans Park.