• July 24, 2014

Community thanks vets for their service

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Posted: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 10:09 am, Mon Feb 17, 2014.

By Colleen Flaherty, Sean Wardwell and Krista Madkins

Fort Hood Herald

The greater Fort Hood area's many service members, past and present, were celebrated with parades and ceremonies in honor of Veterans Day last week.

About 250 guests gathered at Harker Heights' sixth annual veterans ceremony Thursday to thank those who have served, those serving now and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Veterans are "ordinary people who have made extraordinary sacrifices for their country and loved ones," said guest speaker Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., III Corps and Fort Hood commander.

Campbell's remarks were followed by a wreath-laying. The wreath was carried by 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan J. Hunt and Sgt. 1st Class Charles Armstead of the Warrior Transition Brigade.

"It is a huge honor to be asked to carry the wreath," said Armstead, who lost his right leg and suffered other injuries after being shot by an insurgent during a deployment to Iraq in 2009. "I was injured, but I can still give back."

Parade

The festivities kicked into full gear on Friday, when both the city of Killeen and the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System hosted concurrent celebrations.

Killeen's came in the form of a parade, which was one of only five in Texas to be designated as a regional parade by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"This year, there were 36 cities accepted as regional sites by the veterans administration, and we're just so fortunate for Killeen to be accepted," said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Elijah King Jr., co-chair of the parade committee of the Area Veterans Council. "It's quite an honor."

Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock, a retired Army command sergeant major, spoke at the start of the parade.

"It's going to be extremely difficult to express my true feeling for this honor that's been brought to Killeen and the Central Texas area," said Hancock. "We all know we all call (Killeen) a military town. But, I would say it is not only a military town. It's also a veteran's town."

The parade's participants ranged from the 1st Cavalry Division's Horse Detachment to local high school bands and Junior ROTC detachments. Killeen residents lined up early downtown to get a good seat.

"I think today is a great day," said Army veteran David Robinson, who now works with Veterans Affairs. "For everything this parade represents, I think all the vets, past and present, would be very proud."

This year's parade grand marshal was III Corps and Fort Hood Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur L. Coleman Jr.

"It's indeed an honor and a privilege to represent not only all of the soldiers and service members, but our families as well," said Coleman. "We're deeply honored to be here this morning. Since the early 1940s, Fort Hood has been an intimate part of this community. We're very proud of it."

Ceremony

State Rep. Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple, was the keynote speaker at the Temple VA's solemn ceremony, which included a reading of the 26 names added to the hospital's memorial wall this year.

"We honor the men and women who sacrificed for something greater than themselves," said Sheffield in his address. "We can stand here and peacefully assemble because of our veterans. We were able to vote earlier this week because of our veterans. ... To me, service does make a difference."

Sheffield also thanked the many family members present for their support.

"Without your willingness to share your sons, your daughters, your husbands and your wives with us, their service would not be possible," he said.

World War II veteran Walt Holkins, 85, said Veterans Day meant "recognition." He attended the ceremony in his Army dress uniform from the 1940s, which still fit his trim figure. "I feel a little out of place," he said between shaking hands with the many ceremony-goers who wanted to meet him.

Vietnam War veteran Mike "Hog Daddy" Hayes of American Legion Riders Post 55 in Belton said he doesn't get thanked too often for his service, including three tours to the country, but it means a lot when he does.

Veterans Day makes him contemplative.

"I feel sorry for the families whose names are on the wall," said Hayes, 65, motioning to the VA's memorial. "And I think about my friends I lost."

However, he said the holiday also makes him proud. "It's a special day for veterans, for them to really be honored by their nation."

During an emotional ceremony on Saturday, Armstead himself was honored with the keys to his new home on Owen Court in Killeen. The house, custom-made to accommodate the veteran's needs, came courtesy of Homes For Our Troops, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that helps build homes for severely injured veterans.

"(The house) will give me back my independence," said Armstead, fight back tears. "I won't be restricted anymore. It's really a blessing."

Herald writer Chris McGuinness contributed to this report.

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