I had to park a block away from the courthouse. As I approached the front lawn, I was pleasantly surprised to see the size of the crowd. Donalsonville and Seminole County had turned out in a big way to honor our finest on this Veterans Day.
The crowd numbered in the hundreds and stretched from the front steps to the parking lot. It was clearly the largest crowd in years, maybe since the Veterans Day Parade was restarted just a few years ago.
The flag was raised, and the National Anthem was sung. The Pledge of Allegiance was said with obvious gusto from the crowd. It was clear this was going to be a special day. The weather was perfect, with a crispness in the air and not a cloud in the sky.
The Seminole Singers, the elementary school choir, entertained the crowd with several patriotic songs. It is something special to see some of our oldest citizens honored by children generations removed. At the end of their presentation, the children went into the crowd of seated veterans and thanked each one for their service.
The speaker, himself a veteran of several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke of the sacrifices a citizen makes when he joins the military. The hardest of all was being away from family for extended periods of time.
The roll call of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is especially meaningful. Each name of a Seminole County native that died while in service to our nation was read aloud. Their names are always on individual crosses placed at the busiest intersection in town. I have seen their names so many times I recognized most of them as they were called out, even though I only personally knew one of them.
The Honor Guard, consisting of two World War II veterans in their 90s, placed a wreath at the group of monuments honoring those killed in action in each conflict since the First World War.
Taps was then played by a member of the Seminole County High School Marching Band. This bugle call was first played during the American Civil War. The original name of the tune was “Extinguish Lights”. The solitary notes coming from the bugle or trumpet are guaranteed to stir the heart of the most stoic of men.
The crowd slowly dispersed. Friends greeted friends and lingered on the courthouse grounds. The veterans, dwindling in number each year, shook hands with strangers that thanked them for their service.
As I departed, I realized that I had just witnessed something special. My hometown turned out in great numbers to honor those local residents who have given so much to our nation. It was a beautiful day and spirits were high. This is what small town living is all about.
In a time when it seems like you only hear about everything that is wrong with our country, I knew I had just been a part of something that showcased everything that is right.
To our veterans, it cannot be said enough. Thank you for your service.
Dan Ponder can be reached from [email protected]