Kaskaskia College hosted its 14th annual Enduring Freedom Celebration on Wednesday, November 12. The celebration included a free sausage and pancake breakfast followed by a patriotic program at the school’s Jane Knight Auditorium.
Roy Aarons, veteran and member of the Enduring Freedom Program Committee, acted as emcee for the program, a duty he has fulfilled for each of the 14 programs held at KC. The Beckemeyer American Legion Post #1227 marched in for a presentation of the flags ceremony, followed by the National Anthem performed by the Kaskaskia College Choral Group under the direction of Dr. Sarah Graham.
The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Andrew Straughter, KC student, veteran, and president of the KC Veterans Club, after which Father Andrew Knopek, Pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Nashville, gave the invocation.
Welcoming remarks were given by Bill Hawley, Chair of the KC Board of Trustees, who took the time to praise KC President Dr. Jim Underwood for his tireless efforts in building up KC from “a sleepy little community college to a world class institution” during his 14 year tenure as president, building enrollments by 78% and expanding both the facilities available and reaching out into the communities. Dr. Underwood has announced his retirement in June 2015, so this was his final Veterans Day Celebration as President. Mr. Hawley also took the time not only to thank the veterans present but to advise the students in attendance to shake a veteran’s hand, learn something about them, and thank them for the freedoms they enjoy.
Dr. Jim Underwood took the podium to welcome the veterans and their families, and to introduce State Senator Kyle McCarter, who spoke briefly of his father, a WW II veteran of the Chaplain Corps, and State Representative John Cavaletto who thanked all veterans, including his brother, uncles, and father in law.
The KC Choral Group sang a medley of the songs of each branch of the military and encouraged members and veterans of each branch to stand and be recognized as their branch’s song was sung. The choir then performed the “American Anthem” song by Gene Scheer, for which they were given a standing ovation.
The Beckemeyer American Legion Post #1227 performed the Flag Folding ceremony, after which the flag was presented to Dr. Underwood by Dr. Dee Boswell, vice chair of the KC Board of Trustees. Dr. Boswell then called upon members of military service organizations to stand and be recognized for their efforts.
Kaskaskia College student and veteran Enrique Noel took the stage to read the poem “Pride of Our Country” by Roger Robicheau, which ends with the lines:
“Our greatest achievement is that we’re still free
Please take time and ponder who caused this to be.”
Dr. Jim Underwood was the guest speaker for the occasion, and he spoke on the topic of “What it Means to be a Veteran”. He said it boils down to one word: Honor. He illustrated this with the story of soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. When Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on them with 100 mph winds, they were relieved of their duty to seek shelter, but they refused to abandon their posts.
Dr. Underwood is a veteran of the United States Army, serving for 25 years before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. Dr. Underwood spent time in service in Vietnam, and won 13 medals and awards for his service. He spoke of the strife that caused the Vietnam War, and how he served proudly because he and his fellow servicemen and women believed in the cause to stop the possible spread of communism. He also spoke of the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, and how many of his fellow veterans were not welcomed when they returned home. He urged the audience to thank the veterans and to welcome them home.
Mr. Jim Beasley, veteran and member of the KC Board of Trustees has been the driving force behind the Veterans Tribute on the KC campus. He took the podium to update the audience on the status of the Tribute, which has completed its first phase, and to urge organizations and individuals to donate for the next phase, which will consist of three more remembrance walls on which will be inscribed the names of additional area service members, past and present.
Travis Henson, Director of Marketing for the College and member of the Enduring Freedom and Veterans Tribute Committees, gave the closing comments, followed by Father Knopek and the benediction. Taps was played to close out the ceremony.