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In tribute to veterans, gratitude is the order of the day in Gardner

A sculpture of a battlefield cross is seen in the foreground as an honor guard from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office opened the ceremony with the posting of the colors.
A sculpture of a battlefield cross is seen in the foreground as an honor guard from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office opened the ceremony with the posting of the colors. The Kansas City Star

Tom Neddersen of Gardner was only 2 years old when his father, a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, was killed when his plane was shot down over the Pacific during World War II.

All these years later, Neddersen is pleased to know that events like Johnson County’s Veterans Day Observance on Tuesday mean his father’s sacrifice hasn’t been forgotten.

“I think the younger generation needs to see this so they know what these people did,” Neddersen said.

Crowds braved frigid temperatures to gather at Veterans Memorial Park in Gardner for Johnson County’s 28th annual ceremony, which coincided with the 60th anniversary of Veterans Day. The cold forced the county to cancel a scheduled parade, but didn’t stop the tribute to veterans.

“As a community, we gather today to pay solemn tribute to the men and women of our great country who, over the decades, have so valiantly fought to preserve the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on which this great nation was founded,” said Johnson County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert.

The program paid tribute not only to living veterans but to those who have died in order to protect the nation’s freedom.

“They are people who know the true meaning of courage, the price of freedom and devotion to duty,” Eilert said.

Special guests at Tuesday’s event included Gold Star families, like Neddersen. These families have all lost loved ones in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, or at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Eilert thanked the families gathered and offered heartfelt condolences on behalf of their loved ones that made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

David and Deborah Collins of Overland Park lost their son Pfc. Cale Miller to an explosion in Afghanistan in May 2012 at the age of 23. Deborah Collins said celebrations help keep her son’s memory alive.

“The most important thing to us is that Cale be kept in the conversation — that he not be forgotten,” said Collins.

Shirley Hemenway of Shawnee was at the gathering to celebrate the sacrifices of her son Ronald Hemenway, who was serving in the Navy when he was killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Like other Gold Star families, she wants others to remember the sacrifice her son gave for his country.

“Sometimes I feel like over the years people have forgotten about Pearl Harbor and I don’t want them to forget about 9-11,” said Hemenway.

The Veterans Day Observance also included the traditional placement of memorial wreaths and a speech by U.S. Senator Jerry Moran thanking veterans.

“Today we gather to deliver a message to our veterans, Moran said. “Thank you for your service, we respect you and we love you.”

Keynote speaker Lt. Col. Carla Hale, commander of the Kansas National Guard’s 169th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Olathe, encouraged everyone to thank veterans by living life as good, productive Americans through service to others and by taking advantage of the freedoms that veterans fought so hard for all of us to have.

“All who wore the uniform have the thanks of the American people,” Hale said. “We owe them a debt we cannot repay.”