It has been called the best commercial ever. You have no idea what is being advertised until the final moment of the 60-second piece. It starts with a few dozen bored people sitting around an airport. They are all waiting patiently for their next flight. Then, one or two of the travelers are shown standing and applauding. More join in. The camera then shows a small group of soldiers. They are walking together, wearing battle dress uniforms. Most of them are carrying large duffel bags. We don’t know whether they are coming home or whether they are headed overseas.
Suddenly, the soldiers realize the applause is for them. A few of them start to smile. Some of them nod humbly or offer small waves to the crowd. At the end, as they walk away, one of the soldiers turns and smiles. The final words on the TV screen show the name of the sponsor – Anheuser-Busch.
Every time I see that commercial I get tears in my eyes. The tribute of standing and applauding that is shown in that commercial does not come close to the honor and respect that we owe to our veterans — every single day.
Three years ago, Jennifer Woodland and other members of the Clinton County Leadership Institute, worked to develop a program as part of their class project. The program was called “Honoring Our Military Everyday.” They sponsored a party in the Mural Lot, complete with music and food. Free T-shirts were provided to veterans. The Lima Company Memorial was on display in the municipal building. It was a great event to honor our local veterans.
Twenty-five years ago, The United States was preparing for war. Operation Desert Shield started in August of 1990. Operation Desert Storm (The Gulf War) started the following year. This country was gearing up to be on a war footing. American flags were flying where they had never been seen before. A national feeling of patriotism was growing from sea to sea.
This was about the same time that I had been asked to emcee the Clinton County CornOlympics for the first time. The silliness of the competition, hog calls, outhouse races and obstacle course races, paled in comparison to what was happening in our country. I knew we had to address the situation, so I arranged for a group of Eagle Scouts to bring in the American Flag. We had two talented singers prepared to perform the National Anthem, but before anything started on the fairgrounds track, I wanted to recognize all of our veterans.
Immediately after welcoming everyone, I mentioned the seriousness of what was happening in our country. Then, I asked that anyone who had served in the military prior to World War II to please stand. Twenty-five years ago we had a few veterans stand. I asked them to remain standing. I then asked all of our WWII veterans to stand. Throughout the grandstand, many, many people stood. The applause was wonderful. As those veterans remained standing, I asked for all Korea War veterans to stand. Dozens of men and women stood. The applause grew louder.
Then I asked our veterans of the War in Vietnam to stand. As men and women stood throughout the grandstands, I recognized that many of them had not been properly welcomed home. I thanked them for their service and officially welcomed all of them home. I then asked anyone who had served in uniform since Vietnam to stand. Many others stood. The applause grew to a thunderous ovation.
Soon after that, the silliness and fun that is the CornOlympics began. Once more, as a community we celebrated our agricultural roots as we had fun with the competition and the Corn Festival.
Later that evening, I was relaxing and enjoying some festival food at my brother-in-law’s Maple Syrup exhibit. As I sat there eating something delicious that was wrapped in aluminum foil, a large man wearing black, leather riding-gear and looking like a biker or big-time-wrasler stopped, pointed at me and said he needed to talk to me. He looked intimidating, as he stood there and pointed his tattooed hand at me.
I stood as he approached me. He lowered his voice, put his hands on my shoulder and told me that he had returned home from Vietnam nearly 20-years ago. What I had said earlier, before the show started, was the first time anyone had thanked him for his military service in Vietnam and it was the first time anyone had welcomed him home. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me a bear-hug. I think we both cried a little.
This past weekend, 81 veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam were flown to Washington D.C. on an Honor Flight. How aptly named. The entire flight, the various gatherings in Wilmington before they were escorted to the Dayton International Airport were all held in absolute honor of them.
Whenever and wherever you see one of our veterans, shake their hand. Thank them for their service. We can never honor them enough. We need to honor them every day.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.