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Inspiring Veteran's Day program in Johnson County

The lower level of Heritage Hall was filled to capacity this past Friday at Heritage Hall as Johnson Countians came out to honor and recognize the many veterans, past and present, in our community. Armistice Day, later changed to Veteran's Day, was originally designed to recognize those who died in World War I. The treaty to end the war between the Allies and Germany was signed on November 11, 1918. It is from this day that Veteran's Day has evolved to honor the many military personnel who have protected Americans in times of war and in times of peace. The date of this year’s Veteran’s Day rounded out the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month one step further to the 11th year.
Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey and State Representative Scotty Campbell joined Mountain City Mayor Lawrence Keeble and Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter in recognizing the service and contributions of veterans across the nation. United States Air Force veteran Robert Hensley served as master of ceremonies. After the presentation and posting of colors, the singing of the National Anthem by Nancy Davis and the Pledge of Allegiance by Randy Stewart, Ray Branch, youth minister from Central Baptist Church, led the audience in prayer.
Army veteran Kerry Gentry, known for his appearances in our own local “Gee Haw,” performed the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” before transitioning to the his own version of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” This song was written during the Civil War and was sung by both Yankees and Confederates. When preparing for the Veterans Day service, Gentry decided to make some changes to the music. Many versions of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” are set to a bugle and fife background. According to Gentry, he came across a musical track set to marching music. It was this rendition that Gentry chose to use. As the familiar music began, Gentry began to belt out commands, “Go left, left, left, right, left,” “Company, mark time, march,” and “Company, a grateful nation says well done, dismissed” that were interspersed throughout the entire song. “I could just envision it and hear the commands,” said Gentry as he explained how he came up with the idea for Veteran's Day. The result was a beautiful and haunting version of this famous song.
Mayor Keeble thanked the veterans for their service to our country. “Thank you. That's about the best thing I can think of to say. I appreciate all veterans, past and present,” said Keeble. “If it were not for you all, our country would not be what it is today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” Mayor Potter also expressed his thanks and added, “We can't ever say thank you enough.”
Both Rep. Campbell and Lt. Gov. Ramsey spoke of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, the freedom of speech, the freedom of press and the freedom of religion. “It is the soldier, not the reporter, who gives us freedom of press,” said Campbell. He also asked that we recognize and show our gratitude to the military by welcoming them when they return home. Campbell closed with a simple but heartfelt message, “Thank you. God Bless you, God Bless our soldiers and God Bless our veterans.”
Lt. Gov. Ramsey addressed the shock the nation felt as the planes hit the towers in New York City. He reminded us that while there are people who hate Americans and their lifestyles, America is the greatest country in the world. “We are the greatest country on the face of the earth,” said Ramsey. While he stated he did not agree with the occupy protestors around the country, he agreed with their right to protest. “The reason they can protest is because of veterans,” Ramsey said, “Remember the freedoms you enjoy. Don't ever, ever take them for granted. They could be gone at the snap of a finger.”
Nancy Davis and her Middle School Singers entertained the audience with two songs, “Proud of our Veterans,” and “Blue and Red and White.” This was the first time these 90 students have been invited to participate in the Veteran's Day program. Retired United States Naval Commander Patti Young gave the audience a history of Veteran's Day and the number of people who had served, fought and died for our country. According to Young, an estimated ten percent of Johnson County residents are veterans. “We in Johnson County are proud of our Armed Forces and we will never forget.”
As the Veteran's Day program came to a close, the Johnson County Honor Guard came in and one by one carried the flag of each branch of the service. As their service song was played, veterans from each branch of the service stood and were recognized by a thunderous round of applause of thanks from those attending the ceremony.