JEFFERSON CITY — Tears fell at the Capitol on Tuesday as the names of the 77 Missourians who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003 were read at the ninth annual Support Our Troops Rally. Some in the audience were related to the service men and women; others were veterans who understood their sacrifice.
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said he did not have words to heal the families and loved ones of those who died but said, “The words I do have are sincere gratitude, sincere appreciation, sincere thanks.”
The governor and lieutenant governor spoke at the rally, which coincided with the 75th anniversary of the Missouri Veterans Commission.
“Our whole purpose is to help veterans,” said Bob Harvey, a Veterans Commission benefit appeals specialist.
Gov. Matt Blunt said one way Missourians can show support for troops on active duty is by honoring the veterans who have come before them. He marked the day by proclaiming it Missouri Veterans Day.
Retired Lt. Col. Les Spangler said the recognition in the morning ceremony was a long time coming for many of the state’s veterans, whose service in Korea and Vietnam has only been recognized in recent years.
“It grabs you by the heart to think the state would stop and give recognition and appreciation,” he said.
Spangler enlisted in 1952 and graduated from officer candidate school in 1954. He served in Europe, Korea and Vietnam with the 82nd Airborne Division.
He said that the current environment and controversy surrounding the Iraq war make it especially important to thank military forces to ensure troops do not think their efforts are being ignored.
“I know what happened to me in Vietnam. When I saw that the government didn’t want the war, the media wasn’t all that supportive of Vietnam, it trickled down to the people, and I don’t want to see that happen,” Spangler said.
The day was marked by a series of recognitions for veterans in the state. In the House of Representatives, 57 veterans, whose service ranged from World War II to the Iraq war , were presented a state proclamation describing their service to the country. The band and choir from the Missouri Military Academy also performed.
“Today, the United States is the most prosperous, virtuous and important nation on earth, and it would not be so without our veterans and their sacrifice,” Blunt said.
Four thousand people were expected to attend the rally, but only about 200 showed up.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder told the crowd he, too, was mourning for the lost. Last weekend, he said, his friend’s son, who was serving his second tour in Baghdad, was killed by a sniper.
David Day, R-Dixon, said there are no words to say thank you.
“But that doesn’t mean we should ever stop trying,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.