Veterans, community members gather to honor U.S. servicemen and women

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 | 6:22 p.m. CST; updated 12:42 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 12, 2009
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For Veterans Day, Boone County paid tribute this morning to U.S. service personnel and veterans with a parade and an honors ceremony that ended at the Boone County Courthouse

COLUMBIA — The sun shone brightly on the Boone County Courthouse as veterans and community members alike gathered to honor the men and women who have served in the U.S. armed services.  

Wednesday's events began with a parade through downtown Columbia, from the MU Columns along Eighth Street to the Boone County Courthouse.

Before a ceremony in front of the courthouse began, numerous Missouri dignitaries signed an official covenant that recognized local communities' support of the military. Those dignitaries included Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, Missouri State Treasurer Clint Zweifel and U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, among others.

Seated in front of the speaker's lectern, veterans — some in uniform — waited for the ceremony to begin. Others wore hats or jackets that detailed their service.

As the parade approached the courthouse, bagpipes could be heard in the distance. 

The Mizzou Joint ROTC Veterans Day Ceremony began with the MU Men's Choir singing the national anthem. A crowd slowly convened on Walnut Street, in front of the courthouse.

Guest speaker Lt. Ronald L. Tucker thanked veterans for their service, calling them "ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary things."

As taps played, silence fell across the crowd while some saluted and others bowed their heads. The Boone County Fire Protection District Pipes & Drums Band closed the ceremony with "Amazing Grace."

Mark Stewart, a Vietnam War veteran, served in the Army for four years. His reasons for attending the event were personal, he said.

"I'm here to honor my friends who didn't come home," Stewart said.

Earl Talbert served in the Army from 1972 to 1975. At 17, Talbert was homeless; he said his mother had kicked him out. She eventually signed a form that allowed him to enlist in the Army as a minor. 

"It was a great learning lesson," Talbert said, as he shifted his weight to lean on an American-flag-patterned cane. "I learned to respect people, to take orders better."

Talbert also displayed a red and black tattoo on his left forearm that reads, "Freedom is not Free."

He said he has a son-in-law who is serving in Iraq and a friend who just returned from Iraq. His friend who was in the parade will be shipping out soon to Afghanistan, Talbert said.

"These people are the best," he said of the servicemen and women.

David Shirley served in the Navy from 1976 to 1978.

"I served my country years ago," he said. "It's important for me to be here for those who could not be here. ... It's my duty."

Visibly moved by the morning's events, Shirley said someone almost had to be in the military to fully understand the emotional impact of Wednesday's ceremony.

World War II veteran Vernon Barr was also among the crowd outside the courthouse Wednesday. He was dressed in his original military uniform, wearing his original name badge — worn by time — and crew wings.

Barr was training to be a pilot in the Air Force but was transferred to Air Transport Command when the military decided they had reached their pilot quota.

He flew C-47s that carried 6,500 pounds of cargo and traveled at 165 mph. Barr always made sure the planes were fueled properly and were ready to be flown.

"They got two miles to the gallon," he said, laughing. And that was better than some cars back then, he recalled.

Barr served for four years. He said he attended the ceremony to honor all the veterans and current servicemen and women and also because his youngest brother's two sons each served four years in the military.

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