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Saturday was a day to remember, as many people turned out to attend and honor local veterans during the Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Ceremony at the Waxahachie Civic Center.
With a packed room from the front to the rear, families and friends attended to show their support and to give thanks to those who have sacrificed their lives and to those who are now fighting for freedom.
Serving as emcee of the ceremony, Ken Roberts read a letter from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in special recognition of the event.
“Although our veterans are divided by large generational gaps, they are united by the bond of their service of our nation,” the letter read. “The foundation of our nation’s veterans remains the same - dedication to duty, love of country and bravery in the face of adversity. Past, present or future, our military personnel represent America’s finest citizens.
“We remember the brave men who dared to declare their independence and then defend it and the heroes of the Greatest Generation, who stormed the beaches of France to liberate an entire continent,” Cornyn wrote.
Allowing a trip down memory lane for those veterans and families of fallen soldiers present, there were many slide shows coordinating with patriotic music, singing selections from So Noted, Ferris Avenue Baptist Church Singers and music from the Classic Swing Band as well as a wreath-laying ceremony.
Images from the slideshows included photographs of soldiers departing, soldiers reuniting with families, soldiers at work, soldiers crying and soldiers in deep thought staring off at foreign skies.
There was also a salute to the Armed Forces, with veterans of the different military branches standing up for recognition as their song played over the loudspeakers.
Welcomed with standing ovations and resounding applause, many stood proud as they wiped tears from their eyes.
The images brought seemingly endless tears to Miriam Latimer’s eyes. The sister of fallen soldier Aaron Latimer said viewing them was very emotional for her.
“Watching these slideshows have been very hard for me. … I’ve been crying all day but it’s good to know that this is done to honor our soldiers every year,” Latimer said. “Because if they weren’t honored, then people would forget those who have died for us.”
Also held were special recognitions of veterans present who were members of Desert Storm, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War II, the Persian Gulf War and the Global War on Terror.
Roberts recognized the parents and spouses of veterans, both past and present, along with Gold Star families that were present.
He went on to explain the Purple Heart and what it represents.
“The Purple Heart is a military decoration awarded in the name of the president for being wounded or killed in any action against any enemy of the United States or as a result of an act of any such enemy,” Roberts said. “There have been a few modifications to the exact meaning of the Purple Heart over the years but to most folks it means simply this, ‘When you see a veteran with a Purple Heart or when you see a Purple Heart license plate on a car or a pickup, there is a veteran that has shed his own blood in defense of our country.”
With those words said, all Purple Heart recipients were asked to stand and be recognized.
For many, the ceremony brought a mixture of emotions.
“This ceremony is good, but it just brings back so many memories,” said Charlie Pace, a WWII veteran. “But I’m glad that we’re able to have something like this every year and Fire Chief Hudgins and Perry Giles should be congratulated for starting this and continuing it.”
“This ceremony is a great idea but it is so little compared to what these people have endured,” said Lyall Kirton, a 39-year veteran. “This truly means a lot to the WWII veterans but this is too little, too late. We are here honoring those here but there are some who didn’t make it. This is such a small thing compared to what they have given.”
“I think this ceremony is just marvelous and outstanding but it just brought back a lot of overwhelming feelings,” said James Ward, a Purple Heart recipient. “I just hope people would remember us who have served and those who are serving.”
First-time attendees Pat White and Paula Dimsdle said they were very pleased with the effort put forth with the ceremony.
“I think it’s wonderful and I appreciate all the hard work that was put into it to make it what it is,” White said, with Dimsdle adding, “I think that it’s a beautiful presentation. It’s a heartwarming and humbling feeling just to see all the veterans here today.”
The ceremony also included special commemoration of three Ellis County heroes: Joseph Ira Green, Ezelle Bailey and Edgar McElroy, whose son, Rick McElroy, assisted in the laying of the wreath.
Volunteers who read on behalf of the three servicemen who answered the call of duty were Rusty East, Alex Robinson, Chad Colston and Chris Cunningham.
During the wreath laying ceremony, bagpiper Scott Geiger led the uniformed re-enactors and National Guard up the center aisle playing “When the Battle’s Over” and “Amazing Grace.”
At the ceremony’s conclusion, all gathered outside near the Ellis County Veterans Memorial to watch the flyover of vintage warplanes by the Commemorative Air Force.
The gun salute was done by members of the Texas Department of Public Safety, with “Taps” played by DPS Sgt. Robert Bernard.
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