The Duncan Banner
Some entered the coliseum dancing, others were escorted in on wheelchairs and others marched in.
And during the Parade of Patriots, nearly every one of the 93 war veterans who saw the crowd beamed and stood or sat up straighter, buoyed by the applause and cheers.
For veterans like Carl Slifer, Stanley McCoy, Jesse Seratte, Bill Rice, Alfred “Salty” Garrett, Frank Barnes, Bobby Pollock, Coolidge Dale White, James White, Harold Boyd, Daniel Wiseman, Harland Burton, Mordell Trammell, Phillip Adams, Elmer Nickerson, Harold Boyd and Jack Tripp, it was a grand moment.
The Stephens and Jefferson County veterans were among those selected for the Oklahoma Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to view the memorials for the wars in which they served. Friday’s flight was the first of its kind to depart from Lawton and was specifically for veterans from Southwest Oklahoma.
Congressman Tom Cole and Rep. Dennis Johnson also attended the send off ceremony Thursday at the Comanche County Fairgrounds Coliseum.
Behind the scenes, prior to the ceremony, veterans sat with family, friends and Junior ROTC students, laughing and sharing stories.
Once assembled in the stadium, everyone was reminded that they were in the presence of 93 “living history books.”
The reminder had many active service personnel and Junior ROTC students murmuring as they absorbed that thought. The quiet murmurs of approval continued as each veteran’s name was flashed on a screen and read, citing their hometown, service branch and a brief snippet of their history. For some, that included instances like the invasion of Normandy, being shot down multiple times and continuing their battles and how many wars they fought in.
Rep. Gary Banz, an organizer of Oklahoma Honor Flights, addressed the crowd, with a rousing speech about survival, teamwork and the importance of remembering why the veterans are special.
Sharing a story about the 2008 Bejing Summer Olympics, he recalled the relay teams that dropped batons.
“You see, the most critical part of a relay race is in the exchange of the baton,” he said. Then he told the crowd that the coliseum would be transferred into “one giant exchange zone.”
“Veterans, you have lived long enough to see the impact your service and sacrifice made on human history,” Banz said. “Your family, these students and our nation need to hear your story.”
When the veterans had entered the stadium, they had been given a pocket-sized book of the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, without being told why.
Banz then revealed the mystery, noting that the Junior ROTC students had an Oklahoma Honor Flights commemorative coin and that the young person and the veteran hero would exchange their items.
He also told the youth they are the next ones to receive the “baton.”
“Young people — take the baton and honor them by pledging to preserve, protect and and defend the Constitution and our way of life,” he said.
Banz reminded people of the sacrifices made by the veterans, when they, too, were only 16, 17 and 18 years old.
“They faced and defeated tyrants and despotic rule,” he said.
After that, the “batons” of the small booklet and the coin, were passed from generation to generation. Smiles, hugs and misty eyes filled the room.
Banz said 16 million served in the military during World War II, and that now less than 3 million remain, with about 60,000 of those in Oklahoma.
“They came home to build families and a nation,” he said. “These are your heroes.”