BRIGHTON — Military service and sacrifices made in the service to country were honored at the 31st annual Veterans Day celebration Nov. 8 in Brighton.
A crowd of Seminole and non-Tribal veterans gathered at the Florida Seminole Veterans Building to honor fallen brethren, recall their service and connect with other veterans.
The ceremony began with the Seminole color guard, the Pledge of Allegiance by the Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes. Native Voices, from the All Family Ministry in Brighton, sang a few hymns before elected officials spoke.
“When you take that oath to serve, you protect each and every one of us,” said Brighton Board Rep. Larry Howard. “We are Natives and our ancestors fought their entire lives for what they believed in. You did the same thing, so hold your heads up.”
Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank thanked the veterans for serving and helping to protect the freedoms enjoyed by all Americans.
“I know some of your friends weren’t able to make it back with you and you represent them here,” said Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger. “I’m humbled to be standing in front of you all and thank you for the freedom you gave me to be standing here.”
PECS eighth-graders Winnie Gopher and Dylan Johns read essays they wrote for Veterans Day.
“I am here today to honor some very important people. Without them our country wouldn’t be what it is today. Without them we wouldn’t have the freedoms to form our own opinions, to protest when we feel something is wrong and to practice our own religion. Without them I wouldn’t have the deep respect for our freedoms that we take for granted. Our veterans are our true modern heroes,” Winnie read.
“This group of people cannot be thanked enough, for some are wounded and others gave their life, our veterans. Attempting is the word that comes to mind more than any other when it comes to thanking them as to the fact there is nothing we can say or do to show our gratitude that will equal the amount they gave,” read Dylan.
Seminole princesses weighed in as well. Jr. Seminole Princess Allegra Billie thanked the veterans for all they did for their country.
“When one is willing to put his life on the line for something bigger than himself, that is the character of a true warrior,” said Miss Florida Seminole Cheyenne Kippenberger.
Guest speaker John Glenn, U.S. Army 1969-71, explained his role as a medic during the Vietnam War.
“I can’t classify myself as a warrior,” he said. “My primary job was not to kill the enemy; it was to save lives.”
As part of a Dustoff unit, (Huey medevac helicopter), Glenn and his team picked up wounded U.S. troops, South Vietnamese troops and civilians caught in the crossfire and flew them to hospitals quickly. The stress of the job stays with him to this day.
“My greatest nightmares are images of children caught in the crossfire, not smiling but screaming,” he said. “Medals don’t mean anything to me. What means the most to me are the faces of the men I plucked out of the jungle. I never knew their names, but I remember their faces.”
For years, Glenn denied his military service. He said his generation of veterans were criticized and stereotyped and he was ashamed to be a veteran. Glenn suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for years. About eight years ago he sought help and has learned to manage it.
“The older I get, the worse it gets,” he said. “I thought those nightmares would go away, but they got worse.”
Attending a Veterans Day event is new for Glenn, for years he never participated in any patriotic events such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July or Veterans Day.
“It’s new for me to be proud of what we’ve done,” Glenn said. “I learned I had a duty to speak on behalf of those who died. They gave up their futures so others could have a future. Looking back on it now, I’d do it all over again. It was the greatest job I had in my life.”
The Veterans Day event also honored veterans Eugene Bowers, U.S. Army 1964-66, and John Wayne Huff, Sr., U.S. Army 1967-69, who accepted plaques for their service.
The crowd stood at attention as Marc McCabe, regional director of the Vietnam Veterans of America, read the roster of living and fallen Seminole veterans. In a poignant ending to the ceremony, everyone in attendance lined up and shook the hands of the Seminole veterans in the building.