Veterans gathered inside today at the AMVETS Post 100 in downtown Jacksonville to pay respects to all veterans today.
The ceremony involved prayer and benediction by Pastor and veteran John McCorkle, a salute to each branch of the services, a gun salute to the area’s fallen service members, and guest speaker Army Specialist Laurie Evans, a veteran of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
Evans talked about what it means to be a veteran, the intrinsic meaning of patriotism and saluting the flag.
Evans says she gathered the brevity of her service while stationed at Dhahran Air Base in Saudi Arabia in January 1991 at the start of the Gulf War. She says the Gulf War began for her five days after the first airstrike was launched January 16th, 1991. She says she remembers hearing the bombers fly overhead the night of the airstrike. However, it wasn’t until January 21st that she realized that she was in a war zone: “The true war for me started five days later while laying on my cot trying to fall asleep. You hear that sound that everyone talks about, that whistling sound of an incoming missile, and all of a sudden, that training [you receive] kicks in. I heard that noise and I rolled off my cot in one movement and put on my gas mask because you don’t know what’s incoming. All you know is that it’s incoming. I found out in a few minutes that it was a Scud missile. It landed a half mile from where I was laying on my cot. [I said to myself] ‘Here I am. I am actually in a war zone.'”
Evans says that her time in Saudi Arabia showed her the beauty of the freedoms that many take for granted in this country: “While I was stationed in Saudi Arabia, even though we were invited by the Saudis to be a part of the coalition forces, being a woman in uniform was not something their culture understood nor accepted. Women were unable to leave the U.S.-designated areas without a male escort. We had to stay in uniform. When we were in surrounding communities, we were required to follow the Saudis’ customs of walking a step behind our male escorts. We weren’t allowed to talk. We couldn’t drive. Granted the merchants were more than happy to take our money, but they would not look at me nor talk to me – only to my male escort. I could ask the question. They would answer the question, but they would talk to the male soldier next to me – not to me.”
Evans says she continued her service on the home front after her honorable discharge. Evans says she made it a priority to instill the importance of honoring veterans in her Girl Scout Troop that she was a sponsor, noting that her Troop was present in uniform for the ceremonies of local fallen soldiers Matthew Wiekert and Andrew Tobin.
Evans also provided her definition of patriotism to her troop and to the crowd on hand at the AMVETS today: “When I look at a U.S. flag, I don’t just see stars and stripes. I see every service member who has served or is serving, from the Revolution to every war, conflict, or operation. I see every freedom earned and every sacrifice given. I know the meaning of this sacrifice. I am humbled by that sacrifice. It is because of that sacrifice that I look upon the U.S. flag with pride, honor, and humility. That is patriotism to me.”
Evans asked the crowd, especially those who had served in combat zones during their service, to carry themselves with pride and dignity for the sacrifices and work they put in to keep their country safe and free.
Full audio of Evans’ speech can be found in the audio archive here on WLDS.