Annual Veterans Day event fills Senior Center to capacity

In what has become a tradition, the dining room at North Big Horn Senior Citizens Center was filled to capacity on Wednesday, Nov. 11, with local military veterans, their families and well-wishers attending a luncheon held to honor those in the community who served their country. As always, the room was abuzz with community members eager to thank the veterans for their service on Veterans Day.Program organizer Rich Fink acted as master of ceremonies at the event, introducing the event’s speaker Mac Crosby, a longtime Cowley resident. Crosby entered the U.S. Air Force as an engineer/officer in June of 1970 after graduating from the University of Wyoming. He served at a U.S. Air Force base in Waterford, Ohio, for two years, then on the island of Guam for 18 months and at the NORAD Command Center near Cheyenne for 2½ years. He was honorably discharged from military service in June of 1976.[caption id="attachment_10590" align="alignright" width="285"]Jack Nicholls and Butch Fink salute the flag during a special ceremony held at the North Big Horn Senior Citizens Center on Wednesday, Nov. 11. Patti Carpenter photo Jack Nicholls and Butch Fink salute the flag during a special ceremony held at the North Big Horn Senior Citizens Center on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
Patti Carpenter photo[/caption]Crosby shared some inspirational quotes with the standing room only crowd, including the following quote by Father Denis Edward O’Brien, Sergeant, U. S. Marine Corp.“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press,” wrote O’Brien. “It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gave us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.”North Big Horn Senior Center Director Denise Andersen spoke of the importance of honoring the veterans at the special celebration, which has been held at the center for more than 25 years. She said she and the center staff are always happy to welcome and honor the veterans on their special day.In what is always a very moving moment, Andersen called out the name of each veteran in the audience. All of the veterans were then asked to stand and remain standing, showing how many had served in the armed forces from the community. Thirty-eight local veterans, representing a cumulative 370 plus years of service to their country, attended the event.Three veterans, Kenneth Blackburn, Bill Fink and Norald Emmett were honored with “quilts of honor,” provided by the Center’s quilting group.Andersen said, “Today we present three handcrafted quilts of honor, sewn by the Senior Center quilters. Every stitch is a testimony of their admiration and respect for your courage. There are no two quilts alike, just as there are no two veterans alike.“Many veterans of eras both past and present live with struggles day-in and day-out. Their stories and experiences are widely varied, but one clear commonality you will find among them is the desire to have given and to have sacrificed, especially if it meant saving the life of another.”Blackburn is a Korean War Veteran. He joined the Wyoming National Guard as a sophomore at Lovell High School in November of 1947. He was only 16½ years old, but the recruiters were led to believe he was 18.His unit was activated into service on Aug. 18, 1950. They arrived in Korea in February of 1951 and entered combat early in May of that same year.Known as the “Bucking Horse Unit,” “The Cowboy Unit” and “The Machine Gun Artillery Unit,” the soldiers from Blackburn’s Wyoming unit were a highly regarded and highly decorated combat unit.[caption id="attachment_10588" align="alignright" width="200"]Quilter Verna Hawkins presents a handmade “quilt of honor” to local veteran Norald Emmett at the North Big Horn Senior Citizens Center on Wednesday, Nov. 11, in honor of his service to his country. Patti Carpenter photo Quilter Verna Hawkins presents a handmade “quilt of honor” to local veteran Norald Emmett at the North Big Horn Senior Citizens Center on Wednesday, Nov. 11, in honor of his service to his country.
Patti Carpenter photo[/caption]Blackburn’s original enlistment was for three years, but early in the war President Truman extended all enlistments to four years. He was honorably discharged in November of 1951 in time to arrive home on Thanksgiving eve.Bill Fink joined the Wyoming National Guard in January of 1936 at the age of 15. He was later drafted in the Army Air Corps and, in May of 1944, was sent to Okinawa and later to Ie Shima Island, where he repaired runways to keep planes flying and rescued airmen from damaged planes. He said the Japanese would bomb the runways and then his group would repair them. He gave the famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle rides not knowing his fame at the time. He was honorably discharged for his service on April 7, 1946.Andersen did not have biographical information about Emmett, who was modest about the duty he served to his country. Emmett also served in Korea in the same battery as Blackburn. Blackburn recalled a few days leave in Japan that he spent with Emmett. The tales brought the audience to laughter with humorous stories about rickshaw rides and watching western movies together. Blackburn said Emmett was highly respected and he was proud to serve with him.Only a handful of veterans are given the quilts each year.“The problem is there are probably 50 or 60 of you (veterans) out there that deserve one of these quilts,” said Rich Fink. “So hopefully, down the road, everyone around here gets one.”Rich Fink announced to veterans of the Korean War that a special Republic of Korea “Ambassadors of Peace” medal has been made available for a limited time only to honor veterans for their service and sacrifice.Bob Baird showed the group the medal, which he recently received. He read from the inscription on the medal.“This great honor is to impress the everlasting gratitude of the Republic of Korea and our people for the service you and your countrymen have performed in restoring and preserving our freedom and democracy…it is our privilege to claim you as our ambassadors of peace with every good wish the people of the Republic of Korea reaffirm our mutual respect and friendship…for generations to come.”Baird said in his travels he has met with many Koreans who have personally expressed their gratitude to him for his service in the Korean War. Fink pointed out the award is available to any veteran who served in that war, including those who are deceased. The deadline for application is Dec. 11. Applications can be downloaded at: Elementary School music teacher Chauna Bischoff’s students performed several patriotic songs. Ray Messamer was bugler at the event. Dale Fowler was the echo bugler. A color guard consisting of local veterans – Terry Wilkerson, Frank Wilkerson, Reed Williams (chaplain), Allen Sessions, Jim Thomas, Jack Nicholls, Leroy Collins and Butch Fink – presented the flags.All veterans attending were treated to lunch courtesy of the Bank of Lovell. Andersen said the Center plans to continue the tradition of honoring local veterans in the future.

By Patti Carpenter