TEXARKANA — Two solid decades of celebrating those who served our country continued Friday at the 20th annual Salute to Veterans reception for the freedom defenders who collected at Williams Memorial United Methodist Church.
Hundreds of local and area servicemen and women, both past and present, gathered to share stories about military deployment both overseas as well as at home.
Singer Eric Shipp delivered a heart-stirring vocal of "The Star-Spangled Banner" after Texarkana Gazette Editor Les Minor gave a brief historical summary of how Armistice Day in 1918 evolved from a celebration of World War I ending to a commemoration of all who served in all wars after Congress officially legislated Veterans Day into existence in 1954.
Former U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carl Long said it was his job to make sure that military supplies flowing into Vietnam by 1968 made it to all the designated units. He added that a "black market" for those supplies took easy root.
"Electric generators, jeeps, other vehicles and weapons were hot commodities but intelligence units kept these markets under close watch," Long said.
Minor also spoke about how the first reception started at the Texarkana Gazette building on Pine Street, before the growth in attendance called for the eventual move to Williams Memorial United Methodist Church.
"The Texarkana Gazette and all of its sponsors started the veterans event 20 years ago, and one thing happened here just two years ago that kind of surprised me," Minor said. "I was kind of surprised when a veteran named Walter Lee Moore stood up and said he had celebrated his 104th birthday and that he was a Pearl Harbor survivor. Everyone in this whole room was in awe."
Minor further said Ashdown, Arkansas, resident Mary Sue Mills recently celebrated her 100th birthday as a member of the Navy's first female outfit known as the WAVES — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
"When she signed as having no particular qualifications, she went on to become a welder, carpenter and aircraft builder — getting paid only $96 a month," he said. "She was a first-class in every way."
Minor then spoke of his father's service.
"My dad gave up college to become an electrician's mate in the U.S. Navy," Minor said. "When he was going through electrical training at Pearl Harbor, he learned how to become a movie projector operator — and he showed movies below decks on aircraft carriers. I'm glad to have each one of you here today. Your contributions to our country are immeasurable, so thank you, thank you, and thank you all."