The ceremony marked the end of the Veterans’ Day Parade with George Harding as its Grand Marshal. Harding was a veteran of World War II, born in Nashville in 1922. Harding served in the Merchant Marines during the war.
“This is a long overdue honor,” Henderson said of Harding being named Grand Marshal of the parade.
Harding has been a community leader in Wilson County for years since his service in World War II. He is a 64-year member of the Kiwanis Club and the only living charter member of that club. He also served as Wilson County Road Superintendent for a number of years.
Guest speaker at the ceremony was retired USAF Lt. Gen. John Bradley who spoke about the history and importance of Veterans’ Day in America.
Bradley is a lifelong resident of Lebanon and graduated from Castle Heights Military Academy. He served in the Vietnam War, flying 337 combat missions throughout his career.
“It’s wonderful to be home, and Lebanon is truly my home,” Bradley said. “I vividly remember standing in front of McClain School in the early 1950’s celebrating Armistice Day.”
Veterans’ Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919 when President Woodrow Wilson declared the day would be used to remember veterans of World War I and the signing of the Armistice to end that war. The Armistice was signed at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.
Bradley quoted Wilson in his declaration of Armistice Day as saying, “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service.”
Armistice Day didn’t become Veterans’ Day, however, until 1954 when the day was changed to honor all American veterans, not just those from World War I.
There is only one living, American World War I veteran, Bradley pointed out. Frank Buckles, who is 109 years old, is also the oldest known veteran in the world.
Local heroes were honored during the ceremony as well, as Doug Kraft, a U.S. Navy veteran, read a poem he composed in honor of Stansbery entitled, “Michael’s Voice.”
America is in the midst of its longest war in history in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Bradley said most service men and women have done multiple tours of duty in those theaters of war. He said the devotion of current service men and women is unparalleled.
“We can cite the examples of veterans in uniform and out. We mourn the loss of five Wilson County (residents) today,” Bradley said, referring to the five names on the memorial of soldiers who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Three Wilson County servicemen gave their lives during Operation Iraqi Freedom: Stephen Charles Tyler Cates, Asbury Fred Hawn III and William Eric Emmert; and two during Operation Enduring Freedom: Jonathan Charles O’Neill and Stansbery both lost their lives in Afghanistan.
Stansbery is the most recent to lay down his life for his country. He died in July as the result of injuries he received in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan when his dismounted patrol hit an improvised explosive device, or IED.
“All he ever wanted to do was be a soldier and serve his country,” Bradley said of Stansbery.
Stansbery’s father Michael served in the U.S. Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm. A drum roll sounded as Michael and Michelle placed a wreath in front of the memorial.
The two stood as a 21-gun salute and “Taps” honored Stansbery Jr. and the other men and women whose names are engraved on the memorial. “He will live on in all the lives that he touched,” Bradley said, referring to Stansbery Jr.
Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.