Veterans Day 2021 marked the return to the traditional observance in the Martin Luther King Jr. Uptown park after two years under different circumstances.
Last year, of course, it was done remotely — although with people gathered Uptown socially distanced — due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The parts of the program were prerecorded and available online. Two years ago, the threat of rain forced a move inside, to the Oxford Community Arts Center.
This year, the gathering was again in the park with everything done live to the appreciation of veterans present.
Mayor Mike Smith greeted those in attendance and said, as a history buff, he wanted to recognize three local veterans who served in different eras. He cited John Smith, an ancestor of his, who enlisted in the Army for the Revolutionary War just prior to his 17th birthday and fought in the battle of Yorktown.
Smith told of Edwin Coulter, who enlisted in the Marines to fight in World War I and turned down an opportunity to go to Officer Candidate School but instead went in as a private and died just 38 days before the Armistice ending the war. Lawrence Williams was a Naval Aviator, who died in the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor which led to this country’s entry into World War II. He was aboard the USS Arizona and died there, the first resident of Oxford and graduate of Miami University to die in the war.
“They are just a few who are owed so much by so many,” Smith said.
Retired Air Force Col. Ron Schloemer provided the veteran’s message thanking everyone for coming to pay tribute to veterans.
“We are humbled. We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before,” he said before going on to cite several examples, including such Ohio veterans as Gen. Curtis LeMay, who led the defeat of Japan in World War II, and Jamie Farr who served in the Korean war and went on to portray Cpl. Maxwell Klinger in the television series M*A*S*H, the only actor in the show who had actually served in the military.
“We hear World War II veterans called The Greatest Generation and I do not disagree, but there are those serving today and those who responded to serve in Korea and Vietnam,” Schloemer said, reminding the audience of the sacrifices of families of those serving who endured hardships. “My daughter was in her senior at Talawanda High School and it was her third high school.”
A traditional student presentation was also delivered by Ellie Garland, a member of the Talawanda High School Key Club. She began by noting the traditional time for the Veterans Day observance is the time designated for the signing of Armistice in World War I — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
She said the last American to die in that war was Henry Gunther. Gunther died one minute before the signing of the Armistice. Garland called on everyone to make it a day of remembrance, but also a day of learning.
She recalled seeing the monuments on the eighth-grade trip to Washington DC and said they were all different, but had one thing in common, offering reminders of the qualities they stand for.
“Thanks to all our veterans for the lessons they taught us. I encourage all of you to thank a veteran today,” she said.
The most moving part of the ceremony every year is the Laying of the Wreath. Oxford Police officer Pete Durkin, a Marine Corps veteran, presented the wreath to begin the ceremony. After it was in place everyone present was invited to place a red carnation in it in memory of a veteran who has died and to take a white carnation with them in honor of currently serving military personnel.
The ceremony had opened with an invocation by Pastor Garrett Nates of Oxford Bible Fellowship, posting of the colors by the Naval ROTC Unit, singing of the National Anthem by the Talawanda Middle School Bel Canto Choir and Pledge of Allegiance led by the Oxford Parks and Recreation Department’s Learning Blocks preschool class.
The ceremony closed with members of the Oxford Community Band playing a medley of marches from the various military branches. Members of the Oxford Rotary Club provided the backdrop for the ceremony holding flags from the Stars and Stripes program.