Veterans Day 2015 in Cambria meant thanking members of the armed forces for their service, reflecting on the changing place of the military in American society and honoring several veterans individually for their contributions, both in the services and to their community.
An overflow crowd gathered at the Veterans Memorial Building late Wednesday morning for a 75-minute ceremony followed by a barbecue, put on by Cambria’s American Legion Post 432.
U.S. Army Maj. Greg Sanders, recently reappointed to the Cambria services district board after serving two previous terms from 2002-10, received the Don Bowman Patriot of the Year Award. Sanders is also 1st vice commander of the Legion post.
Cathy Wilson received the TS2 Award for her two years managing Post 432’s Troop Support Services Union program, the stated goal of which is to “build a bridge between the community and the soldiers.” The program supports not only service members, but also their families.
Four veterans who served during the Korean War each received “Ambassador for Peace” medals from the South Korean government. Post 2nd Vice Cmdr. Mike Thompson joined Cmdr. Dave Ehlers in presenting the awards to Army 2nd Lt. Dave Crowther, recipient of a Purple Heart and Silver Star; Alan Doctor, Army tank battalion; Joseph Korpiel, Army engineering; and Jerry McKinnon, U.S. Navy.
McKinnon, speaking for the group, said he was accepting his medal on behalf of the crew of the Navy destroyer on which he served three tours of duty, in 1950, ’51 and ’52.
Another honor was acknowledged posthumously: The late Arthur C. Kane was honored with the Knight of Legion of Honour, presented by French President Francois Hollande on June 12, 2015. Kane was honored for his role as a C-47 pilot in helping to liberate France in World War II.
The award itself, created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is the highest decoration bestowed by France. Other recipients include Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. Michael Mullen. Veterans honored for their service on French soil during World War II must have fought in one of the four main campaigns for the liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes or Northern France.
The day’s keynote speech was delivered by retired U.S. Navy Capt. Bud Hankins, who commanded the USS Spinax and served as director of the Middle East/Africa desk for the chief of naval operations and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Veterans come in all varieties,” Hankins said. “Some are hip, and some are square. Some are happy, and some are angry. … Some come into the military willingly and others not so willingly.”
Despite these differences, he said, they all shared a pride in the uniform they wore and a willingness to defend their country in war and peacetime. And they formed a bond of purpose and a common commitment: “If the captain took the ship aground, we all were embarrassed. That was unit pride,” he said. “We knew that we represented America.”
Hankins lamented that the nation appears to be losing touch with its veterans since the end of the draft in 1973, noting that, for example 64 percent of representatives in Congress had served in the military as of 1981; today, he said, that figure is closer to 18 percent.
“Some would say that most Americans prefer to pay lip service to the armed forces rather than serve in them,” Hankins said. “Less than 1 percent of Americans are willing and able to serve; more and more, veterans represent a smaller slice of America. …
“We should be concerned because there is a disconnect between American society and the armed services that represent it — a disconnect that insulates Americans from their responsibility for the common defense.”
Hankins suggested it might be time to reinstitute “an honest and fair draft” to help bridge the gap between the military and civilian segments of society: “Perhaps we should think about compulsory service for all of our nation’s young people – not just military service, but community service.”
Wednesday’s ceremonies began with the presentation of colors and an invocation from John Angel. Tori Ehlers sang the national anthem, and Cub Scout Jack May led the Pledge of Allegiance. Lisi Happel, representing the Girl Scouts, recited a poem titled “Veterans Day,” and 4-H member Patty Acosta presented a poem called “Veteran.” Members of the Santa Lucia Middle School leadership also read selections they had written for the occasion.