Veterans Day Remembrance Ceremony draws a crowd at HarborWalk Village
More than 100 people gathered near the main stage at HarborWalk Village on Wednesday to pay tribute to our veterans.
The Veterans Day Remembrance Ceremony included everything from patriotic music representing each of the armed services to a vintage flyover air show.
Those in attendance were of all ages. Some waved flags, others wore patriotic colors and some had on military baseball caps. The ceremony opened with a playing of taps, an Eglin Air Force Base honor guard posting the colors and Reid Soria singing the national anthem.
Newly elected Okaloosa County District 5 Commissioner Mel Ponder offered a prayer and asked for a show of hands of those who have served in the military. About 30 or more raised their hands, men and women.
Ponder then gave a brief history of Veterans Day and finished by saying, "We honor and bless you for your service."
Greg Featherston of HarborWalk, the emcee for the afternoon, presented checks to various nonprofits from funds raised through the Emerald Coast Honor Games. Those receiving $4,000 each were Special Forces Association Chapter 7, the Air Commando Association, Healing Paws for Warriors, Okaloosa County Sheriff Start Charity and Special Ops Survivors.
Newly elected State Rep. Patt Maney, who retired from the Army as a brigadier general in 2007, was the guest speaker at the event.
"Veterans Day is a very different day that Memorial Day," Maney said. "Memorial Day is more somber because we remember those who have lost their lives in service to the country. Veterans Day, though, is a recognition and a thanks to those who have served the nation."
"Like most holidays, we don't have specific memories of holidays in the past," he said.
However, Maney recalled where he was on two particular Veterans Days. In 2004, he was serving in Afghanistan and in 2005, he was a patient in a military hospital.
"When I was a youth, it was always pretty somber in my family," he said, noting that they always flew the flag.
"As an adult it started getting more personal," he said, when his older brother was wounded in Vietnam.
When he became middle-aged, Maney said Veterans Day was more of a "serious time to reflect on what service members and family had done."
"Now being a wounded warrior and a little gray hair ... it is much more meaningful," he said.
"I believe in liberty, and I believe the United States is the greatest country on Earth," Maney said, which drew a big round of applause from the crowd.
"We're fortunate to live in a place that honors our first responders and honors our veterans," he added.
Maney said in Okaloosa County there are about 33,400 veterans, of which 10,000 are disabled and 18,600 are scattered throughout the workforce in the communities.
"The veterans are unique. They have taken risks, made sacrifices. They've endured hardships and served courageously. But there is a unique reward for being a veteran: You are part of the community whose values are honor, courage, loyalty and self-sacrifice," Maney said.
"I've been very humbled to serve," he said, noting that he thinks it makes one a more rounded citizen.
He then told of how he recently visited Niceville High School, where a student asked him if this country is worth risking your life for? Maney said he gave the student a one-word answer: "Yes."
"That young man made me realize we need to encourage that military service in the defense of all of us is important," he said.
He added that when a student gets a football scholarship or an academic scholarship they are recognized in the news, but not when a student enlists.
"We ought to make those young people feel just as important," Maney said to another round of applause.
"Like many of you who are veterans, if I was asked to go again, I would go," Maney said.
"I want to thank you for your service. I salute you. God bless the United States," Maney said as the crowd stood and clapped.
The afternoon wrapped up with Reid Soria of Autism Sings singing a patriotic medley representing each of the branches of service. It was followed by a vintage military plane flyover.