Even though he needed the aid of a chair walker, Lark Kirkpatrick made it a point to wear his dress uniform and attend the Memorial Day program at Duncan Cemetery Monday. As did about 10 other members of the Stephens County Honor Guard.
Kirkpatrick served in the Korean War, which began June 1950 and ended in July 1953. Kirkpatrick, like so many other veterans, are seeing the population of survivors dwindle.
Stephens County Honor Guard Commander Dan Mitchell said the group was formed in 2007, but in recent years, it seems they are performing more rites as veterans who served in World War II and Korean War die.
“We probably do about 45 services a year. We do them when the veteran’s family ask us and we’re honoring veterans,” Mitchell said prior to the noon ceremony Monday.
“We have all branches represented (with members) except for the Coast Guard,” he said. “It’s about honor and respect.”
Mitchell said now they are even performing services for passing veterans of the Vietnam War. He pointed over at Kirkpatrick, who sat patiently by the American Legion monument while everyone assembled for the ceremony.
“Traditionally, we talk about these people who were giving the ultimate sacrifice for us, for our freedom,” Mitchell said. The guard combined efforts with the VFW, Disabled Veterans, AmVets and American Legion groups to conduct the ceremony.
Nearly 2 dozen individuals took time from their holiday to come to the cemetery and watch the ceremony. Some of those were relatives and others were just there to reflect upon what it means to be a free American. Grant Hudson, commander of the Duncan VFW post, served two tours in Iraq and in Desert Storm, with 25 years to his service in the Army. He’s one of the youngest ones in the group but holds dear to his heart what the older veterans have given.
Senator Corey Brooks and Representative Dennis Johnson also attended and were guest speakers.
Brooks, a veteran, shared the week’s events, highlighting on the tragedy of the tornados that hit Shawnee, Moore and smaller communities a week earlier. On Sunday, a memorial service was held for the victims, to which Brooks said a 2 Star Adjutant General Commander attended and spoke.
“He got up in front of everyone there, Oklahomans, the public, the media and thousands of people and led us in prayer. That doesn’t happen in every state,” Brooks said.
He then described the resilience of Oklahomans and Americans, citing credit to the fallen soldiers who helped shape that enduring strength.
“When that disaster struck, they didn’t sit around and wait for help, it was neighbors who began helping neighbors. That is the American way and that has been won for us,” Brooks said.
“May God Bless Oklahoma,” he said.
Johnson highlighted how a Briarwood Elementary School teacher let her students sing “Jesus Loves Me” with the song echoing louder and louder as the tornado roared closer. He described her heroic efforts.
“How big is that teacher and how big was that tornado? She was ready to sacrifice her life for her children. She’s a hero. Just like the military who goes against the foe, they get between us and the storm. We will go to other lands to protect them so they can have their freedom,” Johnson said.
He talked about symbolic crosses and noted the soldier’s hard hat, rifle and empty boots in front of the American Legion monument. And then he addressed the issue that many military personnel are now being told they can’t share their faith.
“That should make you mad. It makes me mad,” he said, encouraging people to write their legislators and called for people to stand up for their beliefs and the beliefs of others.
He also acknowledged the first female to be a member of the Stephens County Honor Guard — Kathryn Cripps, a retired Colonel, who served in the Dental Corps for 21 years, and daughter of a deceased WWII veteran.
Cripps joined the organization on Veterans Day and is now secretary/treasurer for the group.
“Knowing some of these people is unbelievable. Being able to give back is incredible,” she said after the ceremony. “To be able to say thanks is the biggest honor.”
Johnson had told the crowd that Cripps “just wanted to do something.” Cripps held rank with the other members, including Kirkpatrick, as the speeches continued.
Concluding the 30 minute ceremony was the gun salute and a solo performance of Taps — to which Kirkpatrick stood and trumpeted without missing a beat.