MADISON, Alabama - Members of the Tennessee Valley community came together during the 2019 Veterans Week to honor those who have served the nation.
More than 300 veterans, service members, families and community members met at the Craig and Steven Hogan Family YMCA in Madison to give thanks and show their respect for veterans at the 14th annual Veterans Prayer Breakfast Nov. 8.
"Today we've come together to join in fellowship and prayer in honor of our veterans," said Lt. Gen. James H. Dickinson, commanding general, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. "Each year, Veterans Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on those who have proudly worn the uniform of the U.S. military, whether they signed up to fight in past wars or they were drafted, or they chose to join today's all-volunteer force created after Vietnam.
"We offer them our appreciation for the sacrifices that they and their families have made on behalf of our nation," he added. "We have Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines serving in harm's way in support of the longest war in our nation's history. And while we may never know on this side of eternity the power of prayer to sustain and protect our sons and daughters in uniform, please keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers that they return safely."
For nearly a century, America has celebrated Veterans Day on the anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting along the Western Front in World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. Dickinson said that this year, the nation commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe during World War II and that today, he thought it would be fitting to remember the contributions of veterans from the "Greatest Generation."
During his remarks, Dickinson welcomed two World War II veterans, Sherwin Callander and Jack T. Clift, and said they were blessed to have these two heroes present at the event.
Callander, who is 99-years-old, and Clift, who will turn 101-years-old in December, both served in the Pacific theater more than 70 years ago; they thanked the community members who were present.
"America is great," Callander said. "I really appreciate the fact that they recognize the service we did. Today is a wonderful day and these are wonderful people here. I love this country."
Clift also thanked the community for coming out and recognizing the veterans who were present at the event.
"I am extremely humbled," Clift said. "I am very appreciative for the people to come together to honor us. I would do it all again if I was able. I had a great friendships with people I had never seen or heard about. I am grateful for my longevity and thank the Lord for my many blessings."
The Prayer Breakfast began with an invocation by Rabbi Erik Berk from Temple B'nai Sholom in Huntsville and ended with a benediction by Chaplain (Col.) Mark Frederick with USASMDC.
In addition to the more than a dozen organizations that sponsored the event, Michael Beutjer sang the national anthem and a tribute to veterans, the Bob Jones High School Air Force junior ROTC presented the colors, and BJHS students led the Pledge of Allegiance.
During the event, community member KC Bertling, president and founder of the "Legacy 4 Korean War Veterans Association" was honored with a "Brigadier General Bob Drolet - Service to Veterans Award." She was recognized for volunteering her time, money and effort to make the lives of veterans and the community better.
More recognition came later in the event when three retired veterans, Sgt. Maj. Eugene Cope, Lt. Col. Charles Gill and Col. Michael Williams, were presented a Silver Star banner. The banners are presented to a veteran or service member who has been wounded, suffered a serious injury, or contracted a serious illness in a war zone. Many of the Silver Star Service Banner recipients are also recipients of the Purple Heart.
"Today's recognition is about all of the service men and women we served with and recognizing all of them," Gill said. "It is part of a bigger force and a bigger family and for all of those who made the decision to serve this great nation in whatever way they could to keep the freedoms we cherish right now. I am very proud of the cities of Madison and Huntsville and Madison County for what they do for veterans and recognize all of these great people who are here."
Cope, Gill and Williams were also inducted into the Madison County Military Heritage Commission's Hall of Heroes during a ceremony later that evening at the Veterans Dinner.
Closing out the event, Beutjer performed the "Armed Forces Medley" during which attendees from each branch of the military stood at attention when the song of their military branch was played.
SMDC Soldier and Army astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain talked about the veterans who have served before her.
"Coming from a military background, I am certainly aware of the sacrifices that our military men and women have made over the years that make our country free and make it a great place to live," McClain said. "Any chance that I can get to honor their sacrifices and sacrifices of their families is certainly my honor to do so."