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Veterans must 'cleanse and heal,' Aberdeen Veterans Day speaker says

Patricia Martin, senior vice president of the Ladies Auxiliary for VFW Post 10028, Sgt. 1st Class Kevin King, the officer of the day, and Stephen Farley, senior vice commander of VFW Post 10028, carry a wreath honoring future veterans during Aberdeen's Veterans Day ceremony Tuesday.
Patricia Martin, senior vice president of the Ladies Auxiliary for VFW Post 10028, Sgt. 1st Class Kevin King, the officer of the day, and Stephen Farley, senior vice commander of VFW Post 10028, carry a wreath honoring future veterans during Aberdeen's Veterans Day ceremony Tuesday. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF)

The ordinary people, who in the words of Aberdeen Mayor Michael Bennett, "responded in extraordinary ways in extreme times" were honored Tuesday for their service to the nation during a Veterans Day observance in Aberdeen.

"You have made our armed forces the most respected in the world," Bennett, who delivered the opening remarks for the ceremony, said.

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The Veterans Day event was put on by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 10028, Korean War Veterans Chapter 271 and the American Legion's Bernard L. Tobin Post 128, all of Aberdeen.

Local veterans and their relatives gathered in Veterans Memorial Park for the ceremony.

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Bennett honored veterans and their families in his remarks.

"We know that you have lived through difficult times and often taken the heavy load to keep the home fires burning," he said of family members.

Veterans Day has been observed across the United States on Nov. 11 each year since 1919, the first anniversary of the end of the fighting in World War I, which ended at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918.

The annual holiday to honor veterans of what was at the time known as the Great War, was called Armistice Day.

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It became Veterans Day in 1954, in order to honor Americans who fought in all of the nation's wars, according to a history posted on the Department of Veterans Affairs website.

"Our gathering is just a small spark in the fire that burns across the nation today," Bennett said.

Scott Waters, of Bel Air, whose wife is a member of the VFW Post 10028 Ladies Auxiliary and whose mother-in-law, Carol Brown, is president of the Ladies Auxiliary, was the emcee for the event.

"I was very honored to do my part, just to give up a few hours in the morning to honor those who gave so much," Waters told the audience.

Col. Robert Batts, senior operations officer with the Army Public Health Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was the guest speaker.

A CSX freight train slowly passed nearby just as Batts began his speech; he waited several minutes as the train went through on the rail line that bisects the city.

"That's America's economy going on the rails there, so I'm thankful for the commerce that it brings," he said.

Batts talked about his father and grandfather's wartime service, and their reluctance to share any stories about their experiences when he was growing up.

"To me, my dad had the coolest job in the world," Batts said of his father, who served in Vietnam.

He wondered, "who wouldn't want to talk about a great adventure?"

Batts, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, stressed that war is not the glorious adventure that is often portrayed.

"Everyone that is touched by the cold machinery of war is changed," he said.

Batts said his father opened up to him after he returned from his first deployment to Iraq.

"We had both seen, we had both participated in the foul engine of war," he explained.

Batts talked about the disconnect between the members of American society who go about their business at home and members of the volunteer military who are fighting and dying overseas.

He noted that less than 1 percent of the U.S. population serves in the military and about 7 percent of the population is made up of veterans.

Batts described feeling desolate during a shopping trip to Walmart while on leave from Iraq, as he thought about how "my brothers and my sisters were half a world away."

"Nobody else around me in Walmart had a clue," he said.

Batts said he and his fellow soldiers had a saying: "Our country was not at war, the Army was at war; the country was at the mall."

He said that, while veterans appreciate the parades and ribbons put out by their communities in their honor, they need more; they need to cleanse and heal from their wartime experiences.

"They can't cleanse, and they can't heal," he said. "That's what's needed, though, cleansing and healing."

Batts noted older, tribal societies gathered with their young, returning warriors and held ceremonies, during which the warriors could talk about their experiences, and the community could understand what they went through to protect those who stayed behind.

"Telling the story and having others listen, it's what our veterans deserve," he said.

The ceremony included the laying of wreaths, a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps by members of the Legion Post 128 Honor Guard, music from the Aberdeen Middle School band and chorus, and a reading of the poem "In Flanders Fields" by Carlton Moss III, a Tenderfoot Scout with Boy Scout Troop 820 of Aberdeen.

The poem was written by a World War I Canadian Expeditionary Force physician Lt. Col. John McCrae to honor those who died fighting in the Flanders region of France and Belgium in 1915, where some of the first gas attacks of the war were launched by the German Army. While later serving at military hospitals in France, McCrae died in early 1918, almost 11 months before the armistice.

Like many places across the country, Aberdeen's ceremony emphasized the 50th anniversary of start of the Vietnam War, as marked by the entry of U.S. ground forces in March 1965.

Sam Washington Jr., commander of VFW Post 10028, touched on veterans of the Vietnam War during his closing remarks.

He called those who served in that conflict the "forgotten veterans."

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