HUNTINGTON — J. Brian Nimmo, director of the Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center, said he’s heard people openly question what sacrifices were made by those retired from the Armed Forces.
Nimmo, a Persian Gulf War veteran, was the keynote speaker during the annual Veterans Day program in Huntington on Monday. The program, hosted by the Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District and the Veterans Committee for Civic Improvement, featured a parade through Old Central City that ended in a ceremony at Huntington’s Veterans Memorial Arch.
“They sacrificed by missing birthdays and some weddings, missing the birth of their children, not being there when their loved ones passed away, spending holidays far from home and spending month after month away from everyone that they love,” he said.
Speaking to an audience of more than 250 veterans, their families and supporters, Nimmo said service members have been making those sacrifices throughout history, spanning several generations. Some people made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in the name of freedom. Others sacrificed their health and their well-being to protect this country, he said.
Nimmo said that’s why it’s important to set aside Veterans Day to honor sacrifices and thank the men and women who put their lives on the line. Monday was the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which was created in 1919 to commemorate the end of World War I. Armistice Day was then changed to Veterans Day in 1954.
“Remembering their service is one small way of repaying the debt that America owes to our veterans, those who offered their lives so others can live free,” he said.
Monday’s ceremony was hosted by Fred Buchanan, department commander for the American Legion Department of West Virginia. Buchanan recalled all the wars throughout history. He said one question remains unanswered: what happened to the men and women who never returned from wartime?
“Where are our brothers, our prisoners of war and those missing in action?” he asked. “This is not an absence of choice, but rather one that emulates duty, honor and country. Let us remember their efforts.”
Buchanan pointed out a small table set aside to honor prisoners of war and those missing in action, or POW/MIA. The empty chair represented the face of every service member who could not be there physically.
“The table holds a place of dignity and honor,” he said. “They are referred to as POWs and MIAs, but we call them comrades. They are unable to be with their loved ones so we join together to pay humble tribute to them.”
Monday’s ceremony was also attended by Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, who said his grandfathers served in World War I and his father served in World War II.
“I know that everything that my brother and I have been able to accomplish, all that we’ve been able to experience, was because of the sacrifices of our grandfathers and our dad,” he said.
The ceremony was also attended by U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va. and Mike Browning, representative of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Miller said she’s proud to be part of the Vietnam War generation, which is only recently being celebrated for their sacrifices. Many Vietnam War veterans did not receive a heroes’ welcome when they returned home.
Browning read a statement from Manchin, who said he’s proud that West Virginia has more veterans per capita than most any other state in the nation. West Virginians has also shed more blood and lost more lives in wartime than any other state. West Virginians have always answered the call of duty, he said.
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.