Despite the chilly temperature, cooled by wind and rain, about 100 veterans and families members observed Veterans Day on Sunday at Veterans Memorial Park in Bettendorf.
They huddled under the park’s only shelter. When someone joked that it was a nice day for the observance, one vet responded, “Any day is.”
Organizer Greg Adamson, an Army veteran and Bettendorf alderman, said the ceremony was the ninth observance at the park off 23rd Street. Referring to the attendance, he added, “Not bad for this weather; we usually have 150-200 people.”
The conditions didn’t curb anyone’s enthusiasm.
Eric Swanson, a Marine Vietnam vet from Davenport, said that every Veterans Day makes up for those he missed.
“It’s a recognition of those of us who came back from Vietnam who didn’t receive any appreciation at that time,” Swanson said.
Organizers noted that the Vietnam War begin 50th years ago about this time of year.
Participants placed their hands and hats over their hearts and veterans saluted as the colors were presented and the national anthem sung by Adamon’s wife, Sandra Adamson, and their granddaughter, Lauren Carroll.
Commanders from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Vets of America and the American Legion all spoke a few words to the assembled. They referred to the sacrifices made by the vets and their families, as well as the medical and employment needs of those returning from duty.
Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher saluted all 22 million Americans who have served in the country’s military over the years.
The guest of honor was Army Sgt. Maj. James E. Spenser from Arsenal Island. He noted that Armistice/Veterans Day was established after World War I as a day of celebration, not of war but of those who have served.
He said that the country is still at war, referring to terrorism.
“We have to adjust the way we fight against a different kind of enemy, adjust the way we train and adjust the way we equip our military,” he said.
“As a result, this enemy is on the run, but this war is far from over.”
He added that vets still are fighting once they come home, against unemployment and homelessness. He referred to a recent Pew Research Survey.
“While America’s unemployment rate hovers around 8 percent, for junior enlisted veterans the rate is 36 percent,” he said. Further, “75,000 veterans have no shelter in America on any given night and 44 percent of post-9/11 veterans have a difficult time adjusting to civilian life.”
Referring to suicide in the military, he said the Army is losing more soldiers by their own hand than in combat.
When honoring soldiers’ families, Spenser quoted Revolutionary War activist Thomas Paine, who said, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Spencer urged the crowd to “Never forget or let others forget.”
Among those attending were about a dozen children. Their parents thought it was important for them to be there.
“It’s important to keep them informed so the veterans aren’t forgotten,” said Katrina McHugh, Davenport, who is married to a Navy veteran.
Her daughter, Kathleen, 8, understands why she attends such ceremonies.
“To support the veterans who have died and the veterans who came home,” she said.
After the speeches, Spenser, Gallagher and a veteran stepped into the steady rain to place a wreath at the memorial’s center.
The memorial’s pillars list about 800 veteran’s names. Seven veterans, dressed in their VFW and American Legion regalia, then fired their rifles three times.
Adding to the moisture, a few tears were wiped away as taps was played. Then, the names of Scott County’s 43 Vietnam soldiers who died in that war were read, a bell chiming for each name.
As the ceremony ended, the rain subsided for a bit.