Celebrants from 5 to 105 assembled Monday morning for Belgrade’s seventh annual Veterans Day Event, a patriotic and poignant ceremony to honor America’s veterans.
American pride was on display inside and outside the Special Events Center, where kindergartners through 12th-graders filed into the building beneath a giant, waving American flag, hoisted high above the entrance by a Central Valley Fire District engine ladder.
Inside, about 80 veterans marched into the hall at the outset of the ceremony, accompanied by cheers, applause and the strains of a Sousa march performed by the Belgrade High School band. The ceremony soundtrack also featured the national anthem, sung by BHS student and Army National Guard member Jayde Odom; “Amazing Grace” by the band; and a stirring vocal rendition of “God Bless America” by Jeff Kitto. The ceremony concluded with “Taps” by trumpet player Sydney Eastwood, a BHS senior.
The music set the mood for proceedings that were at once celebratory and somber. At one point, all assembled joined in a spirited, triumphant chant of “USA! USA!” At another, the applause was quieter and respectful in support of seven local Gold Star families who have lost service members in the line of duty.
Veterans in attendance were introduced one by one. Montana’s oldest living veteran, Ernest Hoffman, 105, a World War II Army staff sergeant who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, raised his hand triumphantly as he was given a lengthy standing ovation.
Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient David Chung thanked the veterans for preserving Americans’ inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“Imagine what great country we are citizens of,” Chung said in his welcome address. “‘Thank you for your service’ are not merely words … they are the sentiments of a nation.”
The audience, in turn, was thanked for attending Monday’s ceremony and acknowledging the services and sacrifices of America’s veterans.
“There is no place in the world like the United States of America, not only because of the beauty of the land, but because of the heart of her people,” said retired Marine Corps gunner Christian Wade. “You are wearing your heart on your sleeve, in fact, when you come together to honor your veterans.”
Alcides Alexander Bloem, whose twin brother Nicholas was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005, reminded the crowd why such acknowledgements are important.
“A bad day in this country is far better than most good days just about anywhere else, and this reality is only possible because of the great men and women who serve and have served in our military throughout the history of this great nation,” Bloem said. “Thank you for taking the time to honor these great heroes and those, like my brother Nick, who have given their lives for us.”