Hundreds of O’Fallon and Shiloh area residents, elected officials, dignitaries and military veterans came to the O’Fallon Veterans’ Monument Friday morning in honor of Veterans Day.
“The burden of service is broad. It is not just the veteran who serves — our soldiers’ families take an additional responsibility at home,” U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Steven J. Berryhill said.
The grassy hills surrounding the 15 pillar star-shaped veterans’ monument were packed with people of all ages, races and those donning military regalia.
“It takes unwavering love and support to support a veteran who serves. It takes a special kind of understanding to cheerfully support a soldier who leaves his family for six months or even a year,” Berryhill said.
During his remarks to attendees, Berryhill shared what Veterans Day means to him, not just as an active military member, but as a son, a grandson, a nephew, a brother and a father, like many who sat or stood in the crowd listening intently.
“And now I’m here again in O’Fallon and it feels good,” Berryhill said, who serves as the deputy director of operations and plans, U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base.
He shared his memories of living in O’Fallon and attending a local O’Fallon school while his father served at Scott Air Force Base. He also talked of his grandfather’s service in World War I and his siblings’ service to our country.
“Here’s an interesting, yet ironic statistic. Notice the area surrounding this fine memorial is full of veterans and families who supported those veterans, (but) only seven-eighths of 1 percent of our country’s citizens serve in the military, now, think about that,” he noted.
Honing in on the history of Veterans Day, and a lesson in history, Berryhill offered food for thought for attendees. Veterans Day is derived from Armistice or Remembrance Day, which means “suspension of hostilities,” which marked the end of WW I.
“Finally WWI officially ended on the 11th month, on the 11th day, in the 11th hour of 1918,” Berryhill recounted.
Frank Buckles in 1917 attempted to enlist in any branch of the military, but being only 16, he was turned away because one must be 18 to serve his or her country.
“The marines and the navy turned him down, so he tried the Army, and he lied. He served our country as an ambulance driver on the front lines during WWI. During WWII he served again, and spent three years in a Japanese prison camp,” he said.
Buckles died in February 2011
“He was 110 years old, and he was our oldest and our last WWI veteran. Now they’re all gone. Now what is referred to as The Great War is now categorized as a war with no living veterans,” Berryhill said.
Only a handful of WWII veterans stood up when asked to do so by Berryhill.
“Over 60 million men and women served in WWII. In 1945, an 18 year old soldier then would be 88 years old today. Our WWII veterans are passing away at an alarming rate, more than 1,000 a day and most likely by 2030 they will all be gone. They are treasures. Seek them out. Thank them for their service because we are quickly loosing opportunities to recognize, thank and honor our veterans,” Berryhills said.
“Korean War veterans are often overlooked. The Vietnam War was unpopular and our Vietnam vets came home confused, mistreated, and many still bear those scars today. Today our modern vets are shockingly young, many college age, many are only two years removed from high school. These young patriots deserve recognition on Veterans Day. It’s the least we can do,” Berryhill said.
Sabrina King and her USAF husband Bryan King attend the program annually since its inception in 2006 with their children.
“My son Aden is in the fifth grade in O’Fallon District 90, and he’s over there singing right now. My daughter did it before, too. It’s like a tradition I guess to come here, plus we live right over there,” King said after the program commenced as she pointed to the north side of the memorial where her subdivision is.
U.S. Coast Guard veteran of 20 years Sandy Doucette said she attended the Memorial Day program at the Veterans’ Monument, and said, “both were lovely services.”
“I was so grateful to join the military and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. We need more female veterans. I was moved by Berryhill’s speech and how he identifies as a military family,” Doucette said.