On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, more than 300 people solemnly gathered by the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans to remember those who made the supreme sacrifice for their country.
The day and time, originally designated to mark the armistice that ended World War I in 1918, was proclaimed Veteran’s Day by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954.
From the singing of the National Anthem by vocalist Amy Linnemann to the closing benediction by retired U.S. Army chaplain Col. Richard Yeaton, the annual commemoration next to the Bartholomew County Courthouse has remained largely unchanged throughout the years.
However, there was one difference in the late Sunday morning event. For the first time in five years, the number of local veterans who have died since the previous Veterans Day has declined.
The drop likely reflects the dwindling number of surviving U.S. World War II veterans, who are now passing away at a rate of about 680 per day, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age at the time of death for a World War II veteran is 86.
“We pray your blessings on those for whom the grief still lingers,” said Yeaton in his opening prayer. “We pray that you will help us to understand and comprehend the meaning of service.”
As funeral director and Patriot Award recipient Ron Shadley read the names of the 175 Bartholomew County veterans who have passed away the past 12 months, balloons were released one-by-one in their memory. The traditional hymn “Amazing Grace” was performed by the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums during the reading.
Shadley quoted Bertrand Russell in his address when he told the assembled crowd that “patriots always talk about dying for their country — never killing for their country.”
As in past years, the reading of the names and release of the balloons was followed by a 21-gun salute by the Bartholomew County Color Guard and the playing of TAPS.
In his closing comments, John Foster, the master of ceremonies, said the reason for the annual Nov. 11 gathering was simple.
“If we dishonor the past, if we devalue the price that has been paid, we should not be surprised if the day comes when nobody is willing to fight for our rights,” Foster said.
After quoting former presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, Foster concluded the ceremony with one final thought.
“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the politicians, who ensure our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Cans of coffee were collected before and after the commemoration that will be donated to military personnel being processed at Camp Atterbury. Donations will be accepted at the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum near the Columbus Airport terminal building, as well as at all Columbus fire stations.