Ceremony honors county's veterans

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  With U.S. troops fighting an offensive against insurgents in Fallujah, a ceremony commemorating Veterans Day at Happy Valley High School Thursday morning held special meaning for local veterans.
  "Think of in your thoughts and prayers those who are in Fallujah today," said Sonnie "Bill" Mottern, vice president of the Carter County Veterans Council, to high school students attending the event.
  Mottern and dozens of other military veterans attended the council's Veterans Day ceremony that has been held at high schools around the county for several years. The nation's Veterans Day holiday comes as U.S. military forces pound targets in Fallujah where Iraqi insurgents have launched attacks against U.S. forces and civilians over the past several months.
  The U.S. Department of Defense announced Tuesday that U.S. and Iraqi forces began fighting anti-regime and terrorist insurgents in Fallujah. The Defense Department's report stated Iraqi forces were being used to clear out buildings, homes and mosques.
  "It is heavy on a lot people's minds," said Mottern. "They're fighting house to house. I did that in Vietnam."
  The event included the singing of the national anthem and pledge to the American flag. The Happy Valley High School band performed musical themes for all four branches of the U.S. military.
  Sara Sellers, a retired U.S. Air Force sergeant, offered a moving speech on veterans affairs and encouraged students and citizens to give their time to veterans and their families.
  "Why not call the family of a deceased veteran and tell them you were thinking of them and see if they need anything," she said. "Visit a veteran at the VA hospital - you may find out that they need help, too."
  Elizabethton native Wright Swanay recited the poem "Flanders Field" written by Lt. Col. John McRae of the Canadian Army after his contemplation of a military graveyard near Belgium during World War I. A member of the 15th Air Force, Swanay was taken prisoner of war in July 1944 by the German army during World War II when his B-24 bomber airplane crashed behind enemy lines. Gen. George Patton's armored division liberated the prison camp where Swanay was interned in April 1945.
  Swanay and Desert Storm veteran David Batchelder presented the POW/MIA ceremony honoring the nation's prisoners of war and those still listed as missing in action. The ceremony's back drop is a table and an empty chair and other items, including a red rose symbolizing blood shed for the country.
  "This rose also reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep the faith for their return," Swanay said.
  The ceremony also includes placement of a yellow ribbon, an American flag, and a burning candle symbolizing a light of hope for the families of POWs and MIAs.
  A 21-gun salute and the playing of "Taps" closed the ceremony.
  Of the more than 544,000 military veterans living in Tennessee, roughly 6,500 veterans reside in Carter County. At least a dozen veterans who fought in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were present at the ceremony.
  Among the veterans attending the event was U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Jones who said a new emphasis on the day's meaning had taken hold in the nation since 9-11 and the U.S. military action in Iraq. He feels the nation has renewed its commitment to honoring veterans in recent years following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the nation's subsequent War on Terror campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  "The VFWs and veterans organizations are welcoming us younger guys in," said Jones, who joined the Navy shortly before Operation Desert Shield first took American troops into Iraq in 1990.
  Jones was among less than 10 veterans of Operations Desert Shield and America's war on terrorism. He said the ceremony gave him a chance to talk with and share a kinship with veterans of different eras.
  "I met an older veteran who told me he wanted to thank me for my service," said Jones, "and I told him that I wanted to thank him, because without him I wouldn't be here today."