Veterans Day service in Lenoir honors America's heroes

Nov. 12, 2013 @ 08:46 AM

The bright November sun shone on a table set for one, an empty chair, a slice of lemon and a sprinkling of salt on the lone plate that adorned the white tablecloth, accented with an upside-down glass and a single rose, its vase tied in a red ribbon.

Behind the table, a Navy veteran spoke of the sacrifices of veterans and explained the empty table: signifying prisoners of war and those service members who remain missing in action.

The empty chair represents the person; the white tablecloth, the purity of their intentions when joining the service; the blood-red rose, a symbol of their sacrifice; the lemon, their bitter fate; the salt represents tears shed; and the inverted glass, no toasts with the missing comrade.

American Legion Post 29's annual Veterans Day ceremony in downtown Lenoir began when the clock struck 11 a.m., marking 95 years since the end of World War I, and the time that America remembers and honors its veterans.

Jerry Hatfield has been a member of Post 29 for 20 years and each year has come to this ceremony.

“It’s very, very meaningful for the post to have the honor to do this,” Hatfield said.

Keynote speaker Command Master Chief Petty Officer Wayne Mihelich, the one who explained the symbolism of the empty table, has 31 years of service in the U.S. Navy, retiring July 1, 2004, the day he signed his contract to be the NJROTC instructor at West Caldwell High School, the job he holds today.

Mihelich's the NJROTC cadets presented the colors at Monday’s ceremony and will have attended six Veterans Day ceremonies by today, he said.

Mihelich told the story of a Navy veteran of the Afghanistan war who came to the aid of a fallen Marine, continuing to give aid even after an enemy shot “literally blew half his face off,” and walking back to the helicopter instead of going on a stretcher, “to let the enemy know he survived.”

“It’s one of many stories we can talk about,” Mihelich said, beginning to tell a story of his personal life, of his three daughters running to greet him upon returning from a six-month deployment. It happened on the tarmac as his plane landed. The families of the returning service members were behind a barricade, but upon seeing their father, Mihelich’s three daughters broke through the barrier, spurring the rest of the family members to do the same, he said, struggling to keep his eyes dry while he spoke about the moment his youngest daughter jumped into his arms.

Veterans Day is also about the families, he said, because without them, those in the service wouldn’t be able to do what they do.

He ended by saying veterans’ sacrifice still goes on, that since the super typhoon that hit the Philippines last week, Marine aircraft have been delivering relief supplies there around the clock.

Before he spoke, while watching the news, he saw a Filipino man say, “Thank God the Americans have returned,” and told the veterans in attendance Monday that their actions and their service paved the way for that operation.

In closing, he said, remember what the veterans have done, remember that we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the veteran.