As snow and sleet fell outside on Monday morning, hundreds of people packed the Boonville High School gymnasium to honor those who have served in the armed forces with the annual Veterans’ Day Program.
Maj. Dennis Meyer, retired from service in both the U.S. Army and Air Force, and now an instructor of the JROTC program at the Boonslick Technical Education Center, addressed the crowd. Meyer spoke on how closely connected American civilians are to veterans, bringing up the “small world” or “six degrees of separation” theory.
“It’s the idea that, although the world is very large, it’s so very well connected that you can reach any person on Earth through no more than six intermediate people,” Meyer said.
Most people don’t need six degrees to get to a veteran. Whether it’s a parent, cousin or uncle, someone has served in many families, he said. From those close connections, many Americans know someone who has served in most recent wars, he said.
“Veterans who stood watch during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Veterans who were there in the jungles of Vietnam, and the snow-capped mountains of Korea. Veterans who were there when the German and Japanese armies surrendered,” he said. “You are not so distant from these veterans, but what about other veterans, from other times and other places?”
The U.S. Civil War can seem so far in the past that it could almost be from Medieval or Roman times, Meyer said. But he remembers his father telling him about meeting Civil War veterans when he was growing up in Iowa. At first, he didn’t believe his father could possibly be old enough to have met people who fought in that war, he said.
Meyer did the math, and realized his father, born in 1927, would have been alive at the same time as Civil War veterans. He realized he was talking to a man who had spoken with men who had served in a war that seemed like such distant history to him.
“The chain is not so long. Sometimes they are in your house, or living on your street. Sometimes they are your friends, family member, or friend of a friend. Maybe they’re all around you, while others are memory,” Meyer said. “But, whatever they are, someone knows them, and someone remembers them.”
The DAR performed the empty chair ceremony, which has been performed since the end of the Vietnam War to honor the fallen, missing in action, prisoners of war and those currently serving. The table is covered with a white tablecloth, with a vase holding a red rose as a reminder of the lives of those killed in war. A yellow ribbon tied around the vase symbolizes loyalty, and waiting for those who are serving, while a red ribbon symbolizes the search for those missing in action.
A glass on the table is inverted because they can’t toast with us now, A slice of lemon on a red plate symbolizes the “bitter faith” of those captured or missing abroad who won’t return home. A pinch of faith symbolizes the tears of the families who lost their loved ones, and a lit candle symbolizes the hope that they will return, alive or dead. A Bible represents strength gained through faith, and the chair at the table is left empty for those who have died or been lost.
The Boonville High School chamber choir and Silver Pirate Band performed during the ceremony. The band capped the event by performing the song of each branch of the military, asking those who served to stand and be recognized when their song was played.
Boonville High School Principal Tim Edwards thanked several people for their part in making the ceremony a success this year. He thanked Sandra Riggle of the Hannah Cole chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution for her hard work in organizing the event each year, saying she would probably start organizing next year’s program as soon as Monday’s ended. Riggle’s son, comedian and retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Rob Riggle, sent a video message that was played on a projector screen set up on the stage.
“Thank you to all the veterans in attendance who have served in the United States military,” Riggle said. “We honor you and your families. We offer our appreciation for what you have sacrificed.”