It’s been a long road home for many veterans over the years and for some a proper welcome home and expression of gratitude has been a long time coming. This sentiment was a common theme among those speaking at a special event held on Friday, May 6. It was an event designed to make things right.
Veterans of all eras and military service, surviving spouses, family members and others were invited to attend a special “Welcome Home Day” at the Lovell Community Center celebrating their sacrifice and service.
Governor Matt Mead, Major General Luke Reiner, Veterans Commission Chairman Linda Allgeier and Vice-Chairman Lee Alley were on hand to visit with veterans and their families during the event, making a point of thanking and shaking the hand of every veteran in attendance.
Local veteran Frank Wilkerson was one of the speakers at the event. A World War II veteran, Wilkerson joined the U.S. Navy on June 10, 1944, when he was only 17 years old. Wilkerson, a member of the local color guard, said he has performed the service of presenting the flags at many events for around 66 years.
Veteran Terry Wilkerson introduced the governor and other visiting dignitaries and thanked them for taking the time to honor local veterans.
Reiner told the standing room only audience that he was delighted to visit Lovell veterans.
“I do have the opportunity to travel around this great state of ours,” said Reiner. “And, I’m often asked ‘Where’s the most patriotic community?’ and it is not difficult to answer that. It is right here in Lovell, Wyoming. It is right here in the Big Horn Basin. It is without a doubt, when you start talking about support for the military, this is our center of gravity. Your support is felt and your support is essential.”
Lovell Elementary School music teacher Chauna Bischoff and her students performed patriotic songs at the event. Reiner thanked the group for taking the time to practice and to honor the veterans with their musical performance and with the message in the songs that they sang.
“If you talk to most of the men and women in the audience here, they will tell you that the reason they serve is because of young Americans like you,” said Reiner, addressing the young musicians.
Reiner said he had the distinct honor of wearing a military uniform for more than 34 years.
“Like many of you veterans here today, I’ve worn this uniform into a hostile field and I have laid to rest my friends and my fellow soldiers who died doing their duty,” said Reiner. “Like many of you, I returned home from a foreign land to absolutely the best nation on this earth. Unlike many of you, my welcome home was absolutely exceptional.
“Freedom is not free. You’ve lived it, you know that and the warriors of today and their families are living it and they know that, too. America’s military is the best in the world. That was true when each of you served and it is true today. Each generation of soldiers stands on the shoulders of those who went before them.
“This nation is better because you served and it doesn’t matter whether you were drafted or enlisted because each one of you did your job and we are all better because of it. The good of the many is provided by the service of the few. It’s true for each and every one of you who served and it’s true for the 1 percent that serve this nation today. The honor goes to the men and the women who serve in the arena. The honor goes to the ones who bleed and sweat. And today, those of you who have been to that arena are honored and we welcome you home and say thank you for your service. We are here to say to you what might not have been said when you came back.”
Alley also spoke at the event. He talked about the sacrifice soldiers make and recounted the vivid image of both male and female soldiers kissing their families goodbye and then going off to war. He said it is a “disgrace” when those who made that kind of sacrifice are not thanked when they return home.
“We recognize the importance of these welcome home ceremonies, as a chance to set up on the right track forever,” said Alley. “It’s the opportunity for us to proudly say that we thank our veterans for their service and we thank their families for their sacrifice.”
When Governor Mead addressed veterans at the event, he noted that the welcome home celebration began during his first year in office.
“The Wyoming Legislature said with great vision that we need a day, every year, to welcome home our veterans,” explained Mead. “That day is March 30 or thereabouts, depending on Wyoming weather. Though we wish we could have been here a little closer to that event, we are delighted to be here today to say thank you to our veterans.”
He said the ceremony held in Lovell was the 22nd ceremony he has attended since the special day was designated by the legislature. He said he enjoyed the opportunity to meet veterans across the state and to say thank you.
“Those simple words have had great impact,” he said. “That is because there have been points in time in our country’s history that we’ve failed to provide a welcome home. Not only did we fail to provide a welcome home, but we shunned some of those who served.”
He recalled an era when Vietnam veterans were told not to wear their uniforms when they came home. He said he’s heard many a story of veterans returning home from the Vietnam War who were spit on or other forms of humiliation.
“That’s a disgrace,” he said. “Though we can not go back in time, there is always an opportunity to make things better. There’s always an opportunity to say thank you and to make things right.”
By Patti Carpenter