Memorial Day is a time of remembrance and recognition of our loved ones and the fallen soldiers who served our country.
Homer White American Legion Post 66 sponsored a Service of Remembrance on Monday morning at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
As speaker John Howard noted — it was a fitting place to remember our lost soldiers.
Brown County Historical Society Director/Curator Lynn Allen said the auditorium was erected as a memorial to honor all servicemen and women and was dedicated on Nov. 30, 1921 as the townspeople finally settled on the name “Liberty Auditorium” — to show community spirit and respect for all who have bravely served. Originally, home to Homer White American Legion Post, the auditorium currently has a military room on the upper level, where there was a hand-painted vorder by Charles Darville in 1920.
“The auditorium is a reminder of the comforts afforded each of us through the service of servicemen and women,” she said.
On Monday, the recognition of servicemen who had fallen in the line of duty and in years past their service was top priority for the group who gathered.
Ret. Col. William V. Vonderschmidt welcomed the group of community members and family members of current soldiers and American Legion members to the service. Troop 313 Hiawatha Scouts posted the colors and the group gave the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Marissa LeMay’s performance of “Star Spangled Banner.”
Rev. Shane Spanger of Bethany & Fairview United Churches of Christ gave the invocation and Jeremy Stover with Homer White Post 66 provided the recognition of the 2022 Honor Roll & Lost Soldiers Memorial.
Guest speaker was John Howard, member of Homer White Post 66, a prominent Brown County ag producer and a combat veteran from the Vietnam era.
Howard is a Hiawatha High School graduate with the Class of 1967 and joined the HHB 2d Bn 130th FA in Hiawatha. The unit was mobilized in 1968 and he was deployed to Viet Nam 1969. When the unit was demobilized late in 1969 he returned to the State of Kansas and was honorably discharged.
Howard graduated from KSU in 1973 with an AG Economics degree and married his wife, Becky the same year. They have three children and eight grandchildren. He has served in many local organizations: serving member of the Hiawatha cemetery board for over 40 years, served on the Hiawatha Hospital Board of Directors for 6 years, 2 of those as president.
In 2001 he became a Charter member of Lifeline Foods in St. Joseph, Mo., and currently serves as Chairman of the Board of managers. He also started Howard Seed in 1974 and formed Howard Farms Inc. in 1975 and is currently the Vice President.
He has been a member of the First United Methodist Church for over 46 years.
He has been a member of Homer White Post 66 American Legion for many years and is an active participant of the Post’s Brown Co Veterans Honor Guard.
Howard talked about the importance of May — from Mothers Day to graduations to the financial giving of the Hiawatha Community Foundation’s Match Days to Memorial Day — and about giving. He said you are taught to share and give from an early age — share with your siblings. May is a month of giving.
“Today is the most important day of the month,” he said. “As we remember the men and women who so selflessly have given their lives to protect our freedom.”
Howard said it was difficult for him to hear patriotic songs and the haunting tune of “Taps,” as he had his own personal story to share. A few years ago, Howard had the privilege of attending the Honor Flight to Washington D.C., where the group visits memorials and Arlington Cemetery. When approaching the Vietnam War wall, his sponsor asked if he knew any names on that wall.
He said he did — 40 of them. Howard went on to share the story of his time in Vietnam and a particular day — May 12, 1969 — that would forever be etched in his mind. In late 1968 he received his orders and by the beginning of 1969 he was in the jungles of Vietnam. He had been deployed to an area close to Cambodia and a trail used to supply North Vietnamese with supplies. One of 185 soldiers assigned to this area, Howard was on guard duty one night when their camp was ambushed and they were in combat on three sides, with the perimeter breathed. The enemy retreated shortly before daylight but not before 40 American soldiers were killed and 75 enemy lay dead, with many more injured.
Howard said if it had not been for the bravery of the soldiers in the helicopters and the fighter pilots who helped them, the situation would have been worse.
“If not for them, many more names would be subscribed on that wall,” Howard said. “We were outgunned, outmanned but had the grace of God with us.”
Howard reminded that Memorial Day is about remembering each of those 40 men who gave their lives and many, many others.
“They gave their lives and their future so we may have ours,” he said.
He asked those in attendance to make sure and stop by a veterans grave when they visited the cemeteries, or go to the Veterans Memorial Monuments and read all of those names there.
He closed with a poem, “Freedom is Not Free.”
LeMay sang “God Bless America” and Rev. Spangler gave the benediction. The Brown County Veterans Honor Guard performed a Three-shot Volley & Taps to close the program.