ROGERSVILLE — A handful of World War II and Korean War veterans participated in a 23-balloon salute Saturday to honor veterans who were killed or missing in action.
The release of balloons preceded the playing of taps and a 21-gun salute which concluded the Veterans Day program in downtown Rogersville.
Although Sunday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day, the town held its program a day early this year to avoid competing with churches, which are generally in session during the 11th hour.
Rogersville American Legion Post 21 Vice Commander Dennis Elkins asked all WWII and Korean War veterans to be the first to take balloons, and then the rest of the 23 were released by Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
“I want to honor our WWII veterans and Korean veterans because they’re getting older,” Elkins said.
Two of the balloons paid tribute to WWII POW veterans who were among those honored at an event at the American Legion on Sept. 21.
Unfortunately, both men were in the hospital that day. Sgt. John Huff, 95, actually passed away two hours before the program began, and Pvt. Lawrence Shoemaker, 93, passed away two weeks later.
The keynote speaker for Saturday’s event was Jake Jacobs, who is a former Air Force F-100 fighter pilot, Vietnam War veteran and owner/operator of the Amis Mill Eatery and historic site.
The topic of Jacobs’ presentation was freedom. He said that he had recently graduated from college in 1967 with a teaching degree when he was drafted, and he noted that he could have gotten a teaching deferment.
But Jacobs had seen many of his high school classmates return from Vietnam, some in body bags.
“I felt perhaps a little guilty, but more importantly I felt responsible,” Jacobs said. “I felt responsible for freedom. (His wife) Wendy and I discussed it and decided to decline the deferment and join the Air Force.”
He served a year in Vietnam and earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and seven air medals while flying 165 combat missions.
At the beginning of the program, Rogersville VFW Commander Dale Evans led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, which Jacobs referenced during his speech.
“What did we just say?” he asked the crowd. “We put our hands over our hearts and we said, ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ Ladies and gentlemen, that’s freedom. That’s why all of the veterans and their families do what they do, to cherish and protect that freedom.”
Saturday’s program began with the ringing of the bell 11 times by Cub Scout Pack 100.
Rev. Tecky Hicks led the invocation, quoting John 15:13: “ ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’
“All of us who have served in the military, and in combat, I think that applies because we were willing to do that,” Hicks said. “We were willing to do that because we love our country, and we were willing to die for it, but you graciously blessed us in letting us live that we might live for it.”
The raising of the flag was conducted by combined units of the Volunteer and Cherokee High School NJROTCs, and the national anthem was sung by Mary Ellen Broome.
Master of ceremonies Capt. (Ret.) Larry Wheeler reminded the crowd that 5 a.m. Eastern Standard Time Sunday will be the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice, which in France was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918 when that war officially ended.
Armistice Day later became Veterans Day.
Following Jacobs’ speech, there was a laying of wreaths at the eternal flame, followed by the balloon release and a 21-gun salute by the combined Church Hill, Rogersville and Bulls Gap VFW firing squads.