It was the sights and sounds and the reverence and precision of Veterans Day that made the biggest impression for me.
The chimes struck 11 times from the Bartholomew County Courthouse clock tower, signaling to the master of ceremonies, John Foster, that it was time to begin — and he did exactly that, right on time.
More than 300 people gathered on the grounds of the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. As many caring, patriotic people do each year, they came to pay their respects to veterans past and present during the Columbus and Bartholomew County Community Veterans Day Program.
Appropriately, the ceremony was held adjacent to the limestone columns that serve as sentinels of honor for Bartholomew County citizens who gave their lives in service to their country.
As it began, hats came off during the national anthem. Hands covered hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance.
And heads bowed for the prayer from chaplain and Col. Richard Yeaton who, like Foster, is a Patriot Award winner honored for contributions to country or to veterans.
After announcements and introductions, and laying of the wreaths, with music in the background by the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums, Bartholomew County funeral directors removed bouquets of balloons from two vans parked next to each other on the grounds.
Up to the microphone stepped Ron Shadley, yet another Patriot Award winner.
Shadley, a funeral director for Hathaway-Myers Chapel and Myers-Reed Chapel, had the assignment this year to read aloud the names of veterans who had died over the past 12 months. That role rotates each year among the four funeral homes operating in the county. Throughout the year, they chronicle the names of veterans whose funerals they handle — and create the list that is read each November.
This year’s service was poignant from start to finish, but it’s the middle part that was especially touching and personal for many who gathered last Sunday.
At 11:12 a.m., the first name read was Preston Acree. Ten minutes later, we heard the final name, that of Charles ZeBell. In between Shadley read the names of 173 other veterans.
For friends and family members, they know the personal story of each veteran who was honored. It’s silently recalled, whether seated in folding chairs or standing near the back.
But unless you have access to an obituary archive, as I do, you would not know the specific ways in which these men and woman served their country.
Acree, for example, was a medic in the U.S. Army, earning the Bronze Star. The Elizabethtown native was 88 when he died Aug. 21 of this year. ZeBell, 78, of Columbus, was an Air Force veteran who had served in the Korean War. He died Dec. 11, 2011.
As each of their names was read, a member of the Bartholomew County funeral directors group released a single balloon. Just as you would expect in a military program, there was a cadence to Shadley’s delivery.
At 10 names per minute, the morning’s strong wind lifted each balloon skyward. The red, white and blue balloons — donated by Flowers by Lois — quickly gained elevation, drifting up into a clear blue sky, a stunning backdrop.
The service ended with three rifle volleys delivered by the Bartholomew County Color Guard, yet another Patriot Award recipient, followed by the playing of taps, the benediction by Yeaton and closing comments by Foster.
There was a spirituality to this event, all 27 minutes of it.
For some of the 300, participating meant attending a second Sunday service that day.
Shadley, who moved to Columbus about 14 years ago, doesn’t think it matters what day of the week Veterans Day falls on.
Weekday or weekend, “the people who were there would come regardless,” he said afterward. “I don’t really think it mattered.”
What did matter, however, is that they came.
Tom Jekel is editor of The Republic. His column appears each Sunday. You may reach him by phone at 379-5665 or by email at email@example.com