Thanks & honor: Community gathers to recognize veterans
Retired Col. Jeff Waller has heard the words, “thank you for your service,” more in the last three years than in the 26 years he served in the U.S. Air Force.
And those are statistics the former search and rescue pilot proudly conveyed Monday to a crowd at Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus gathered for the school’s annual Veterans Day program.
“If you were around during Vietnam (War) in the mid 1970s, you knew it was not a good time to be in the military,” Waller said. “Many times military people were taunted or had their uniforms ripped all while walking through public places.
“I think these groups of soldiers coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq are getting more recognition and assistance than have traditionally been shown in the past, which is a great thing.”
Waller entered the U.S. Air Force in September 1972. He flew search and rescue missions in California, Alaska and Illinois for 11 years and was directly credited with saving 28 lives and assisting with more than 2,000 life and death situations.
Putting himself in harm’s way countless times didn’t cross Waller’s mind, however, during the flights.
“I call that plain ole’ patriotism,” he said. “Freedom is not free. It costs lives and it costs things that people do to serve their country.”
Waller spoke about the history of Veterans Day, which was called Armistice Day from 1919 until 1954.
President Woodrow Wilson originally declared Armistice Day for Nov. 11, 1919, to commemorate the end of World War I, which formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
“To the best of our knowledge, there have been 190 armed conflicts by U.S. military services since we started our revolution in 1774,” Waller said. “And we’re still doing it, folks.
“The military members who have served are called veterans, and today our nation has chosen to honor them.”
Before and after Waller spoke, Cathedral Elementary School second-grade students sang a variety of patriotic songs for the program.
The students from Amy Gamberi’s and Martha Adams’ classes practiced for two weeks for the show.
Second-grade student Braeden Gregg said his favorite song from the day was, “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
“I like the tune,” Braeden said. “I don’t know a lot about Veterans Day, but I know it’s a special day.”
Before the program concluded, retired Air Force member Mark LaFrancis asked the crowd for a favor with his local non-profit organization, Home With Heroes.
The organization aims to honor and help veterans and their loved ones with donated gifts, trips and other things.
LaFrancis brought a video camera attached to a tripod on stage and told the crowd he was filming a series of “shout-out videos” to send to soldiers serving across the globe.
“We’d like to have you say something special to them that will appear on the channel and a video we’re amassing of shoutouts to soldiers overseas,” LaFrancis said. “We’ve been collecting these for about two months.”
LaFrancis gave the crowd brief instructions, stepped behind the video camera and counted down from three before the audience members unanimously shouted the same phrase.
“Thank you for your service to our country,” the crowd yelled toward the camera.