Despite chilly temperatures and gusting winds, a Friday morning Veterans Day ceremony in Stafford drew about 100 guests to the county’s Armed Services Memorial on Courthouse Road.
“From the time of the Revolutionary War, our veterans and their families have been the ones that have continuously supported and continuously helped this nation grow, to be the great nation it is today,” said retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Ron Christmas, the event’s keynote speaker.
Christmas, who served on active duty for 34 years, was awarded the Navy Cross and the Purple Heart for valor during the Battle for Hue City in 1968. The retired general was seriously wounded during that urban Vietnamese battle, which claimed the lives of 216 American servicemen and wounded another 1,584.
During his remarks, Christmas acknowledged those servicemen and servicewomen who made the ultimate sacrifice in all wars, beginning with the Revolutionary War. He also thanked those now serving in the Global War on Terrorism.
“Their sacrifices,” Christmas said, “help ensure freedom in America.
“Isn’t it wonderful that you can disagree? Isn’t it wonderful that you can live the life you want to live?” he added. “I would say that falls very much on our veterans and our current active-duty service personnel.”
Christmas also placed heavy emphasis on the dedication and sacrifices of families of service members, who he called “unrecognized veterans,” specifically citing examples of their courage and commitment during the Vietnam War.
“They, too, should be honored,” said Christmas. “Can you imagine the stress they felt when those battles were on television every night?”
Jennifer Herrmann is a Marine Corps wife who lost her husband last year in an aviation accident off the coast of Japan.
At that time, the couple was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan. Her husband, Lt. Col. Kevin Ryan Herrmann, was executive officer of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, headquartered at the base.
Herrmann recalled the numerous times she was separated from her husband during long and arduous deployments, and reflected on the many challenges both she and her family faced while her husband was deployed.
“It was tough,” Herrmann said. “Kevin went on four deployments, three in Iraq, one in Afghanistan. We went through hurricanes without him, pregnant for two of them, a brand new newborn for one of them. We’ve had our share of challenges along the way. Sacrifice, too.”
On Dec. 6, 2018, Lt. Col. Herrmann’s KC-130J refueling plane collided in midair with an F/A-18 fighter jet. All five crewmen aboard the tanker were killed. The two aviators in the fighter jet were located at sea on the first day of rescue operations, but only one survived.
During the Friday ceremony, in which Herrmann honored “those that we love, who have served, or who have sacrificed for our country,” she offered simple advice to young wives going through difficult deployment separations.
“You’re stronger than you think, and you can do it,” she said. “Rely on the family that you’ll make in the service that you’re in, and you’ll make lifelong friends. Your friends will become your family.”
Vietnam veteran and Stafford resident Thurman Campbell came to Friday’s ceremony believing America has taken a tremendous turn in the way veterans are recognized today, compared with the harsh welcome returning veterans received during the Vietnam War era.
“We could always do more, but I think the tide is turning, things are changing and veterans are being recognized now, more so than in the past,” said Campbell.
Supervisor Cindy Shelton recalled her own experiences during that same era, where service members often faced scorn, even at home, as the war they had fought in became increasingly unpopular.
“During the Vietnam War and the Vietnam era, we needed intervention because people were disparaging us everywhere,” said Shelton, a 24-year U.S. Air Force veteran.
“It was a pretty awful time,” said Shelton. “You’d go shopping and they’d find out you were military, they’d make you leave. It was crazy.”
Matt Brown, a Stafford resident and a Purple Heart recipient, agreed with Shelton’s assessment.
Brown served for 22 years in the U.S. Army, during a period that spanned from the Vietnam War to Operation Desert Shield.
“The more that we come to grips with those days and what’s happening with our younger veterans now, the more we can understand that we can do a better job taking care of those veterans,” said Brown.