Every veteran has a story behind the decision to serve — some volunteered, some did not, said retired Rear Adm. J. Stanton Thompson of Higginsville, Mo.
“For me, I wanted to be in the Navy since I was knee-high to a stump,” said Thompson, the keynote speaker at Sunday’s third annual Ike Skelton Veterans Day ceremony. “My father served in the Navy during World War II on a ship in the Pacific. His sea stories and his unwavering love of our nation planted in me the strongest desire to follow in his footsteps. It was not a question if I’d serve, it was when.”
The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence held the afternoon event that included free admission to the museum, a patriotic concert and a wreath-laying ceremony.
Thompson said today’s volunteers raise their right hand and take the oath of enlistment saying, “Here I am America ... send me.”
“I can’t imagine anything we, as citizens, can be more proud of,” he said. “When I was released from active duty and returned home after two long deployments to Vietnam, I was advised not to wear my uniform, let my hair grow long, and don’t act like I served in the Navy. You see, there were a lot of folks at that time who disagreed with our involvement in Vietnam. They took out their frustration and distaste for the war on those of us who served.”
Thompson said it wasn’t wrong then, nor is it wrong today, to question why the country is at war.
“I only ask that the question be directed to the people who made the decision, not those in uniform who must carry it out,” he said. “Veterans are treated differently today, and rightly so.”
He asked audience members to take time to thank a veteran for his or her service, not just on Veterans Day but every day.
Thompson said it was special for him to take part in Sunday’s event because he not only knew Skelton for many years, he considered him a close friend.
Still, Skelton — a longtime congressman from Missouri who died last year — always introduced Thompson as the “second best sailor to come from Higginsville.”
“No matter how many stars I would have had on my collar I would always be second in his eyes. You see, his father was a Navy petty officer who served on the USS Missouri during World War I ... and he was also from Higginsville,” Thompson said.
During Sunday’s event, veterans also exhibited personal memorabilia and other military items that they have collected over the years.
Mike Sharp, who served in the Vietnam War, started collecting novelty military patches from post-World War II in 1980. He has added to that collection over the years with such items as a pristine apron made from a Navy cap, neckerchief and badges, specially tailored Navy uniforms with secret pockets that soldiers wore on leave, and hand-embroidered Japanese scarves.
Michael “Big Al” Alexander of Independence displayed hand-carved wooden helicopters made by his fellow soldiers serving in the Vietnam War.
Jack Gant, also of Independence, brought some personal memorabilia from World War II including a wide belt that he wrapped around his hand, showing how the buckle could then be used as a weapon in an emergency.
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