The last veteran's celebration

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By Ken Begley

I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.

Abraham Lincoln

One Iraqi war veteran, Phillip Campbell, told me that Washington County does more for veterans than any other community that he knows. The biggest celebration has been the one at Washington County High. My father, a World War II vet, attends every year and positively beams when he talks about it.

Yet there are numerous other smaller events that don’t always receive mention.

I’m a 33 year veteran and attended my first such event put on by the students of St. Dominic last Friday at the children’s Mass. I was deeply moved by what I experienced and came away receiving more than I ever imagined.

I entered the church with my beautiful wife, Cindy, and the other veterans. Students handing out the miniature flags greeted us. Eighth grader Alex Mann, who has a birthday on the same day as mine, made sure he gave me his. All the veterans sat together while every student at the school was seated by classes.

We all stood as the music began with “America.” The fourth grade made up the choir while the rest of the school joined in.

A procession proceeded to the altar with the cross of Jesus Christ carried in front by Morgan Mann. William Hale, carrying the American Flag, followed her. Then came four representatives from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Each boy and girl carried a miniature flag held tall and proud with respect and honor, the way it was meant to be. These flags were then individually placed on a display at the center of the altar.

I couldn’t help but notice eighth grader Travis Mattingly in that procession. I’ve always felt a kindred spirit in this young man. I’ve always thought he might one day join our armed forces. Don’t know why. I just do.

The third grade did all the readings and brought up the gifts to the altar.

A beautiful responsorial psalm was sung by trio Ashley Yates, Elizabeth Medley, and Carsyn Kidwell.

The Mass continued as Father Pepper led it with more religious and patriotic songs and readings.

As the Mass ended, all the veterans got up to leave when suddenly an unexpected event happened. We heard clapping. We looked back to see what it was for and it was the children clapping for us. I had never had that happen to me before and felt unworthy.

Later, Phillip Campbell and I talked with the first grade class down at St. Dominic. I asked if they had heard of Iraq, thinking that they probably didn’t truly understand what today was all about.

The whole class raised their hands.

Phillip asked if they knew someone that was a veteran or was in the military now. Almost the entire class raised their hands again.

Then one little girl, seven-year-old Mary Claire Hughes, raised a timid hand and said, “My step-brother died in Iraq.”

He was Sergeant Adam Hughes of Springfield.

I had to catch myself at that point when I realized that little Mary Claire knew more about the price of freedom than I did, or those around me.

We have all suffered, but some more than we will ever know or understand.

That day drove home something that I had lost somewhere, somehow, along the way of a chaotic life.

We want this next generation to have and hold the most precious gift we can give. It’s not money, houses, or cars.

It’s our freedoms.

“The freedom of speech.”

“The freedom to worship.”

“The freedom from want.”

“The freedom of fear.”

It’s a dangerous world we live in today, but don’t be fooled. It always has been.

Yet this place, this country we live in, is one shining light and beacon of hope around the world.

That’s what was given to our generation.

That’s what should be given to the next.

With God’s help.

Pray for peace.