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Veteran’s Day Celebrates Community Heroes– Uniformed or Not

By Mason Edwards, Features Editor for the University Echo

Vietnam Veterans of America #203 stand ready for the Presentation of Colors. Saturday, November 11, 2023. Lexi Foley, Assistant Sports Editor.

Following a trail of uniformed National Guard soldiers, an estimated 200 people weaved through the castle-like walls of the Chattanooga National Guard Armory. They gathered in the drill hall- a spacious building which more closely resembled an airplane hanger– to celebrate one of the region’s best defining features: veterans.

On Nov. 11, local veterans organizations like the American Legion, Sons of the American Revolution and Vietnam Veterans of American (VVA) chapters presented their flags at the annual Chattanooga Veteran’s Day ceremony. Before and after the speakers, the Choo Choo Chorus performed a capella harmony versions of the National Anthem and the Armed Forces Melody. The latter song celebrates each military branch.

Jeff Wells, an Army veteran, noted that this event’s turnout exceeded last year’s– likely because the day fell on a Saturday. Given the larger crowd, Wells explained the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.

“Veteran's Day is more of a celebration for those who have served and are still living,” Wells said, explaining that its important to “[take] a moment out of the year to honor those folks who not only have served, but those who serve the veterans: the groups like the V.A., like the county service officers and the elected officials.”

During the event, an Army representative, bearing a letter from Governor Bill Lee, revealed a surprise announcement. In recognition of her efforts as a local historian and Secretary of the Chattanooga Area Veterans Council, the letter appointed Linda Moss Mines with the rank of Colonel.

“I obviously serve with the sneakiest bunch of retired military folks in the world,” Mines joked, sharing her immense gratitude. “It is my privilege every day of my life [to highlight] all of you who stood on the line.”

After her heartfelt thanks, Mines kept the air light. Even though the rank celebrates her 50 plus years of work within the community, she found humor in the fact that, she now outranks the veterans she works with, and her rank exceeds that of her late husband’s. 

Next, the ceremony honored Gold Star spouses and family members: people who lost their loved ones as a direct result of service-related injuries or complications. Members from the VVA handed out yellow roses to the Gold Star spouses in attendance. Dressed in yellow, they sat together and close to the stage.

“It’s a very nice homage they do for us because, we were the ones that… supported them through their illnesses… their traumas,” Carol Jackson said while holding a yellow rose.

“We’re not here for us. I’m here to honor my husband and her husband and everybody else that served.”

Several notable, local politicians, like Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp, shared recent veteran-related accomplishments. They both acknowledged the recently recognized Medal of Honor recipient, Captain Larry Taylor.

“I argue that right now, it’s probably more important than it’s ever been in our country’s history that we honor you and reflect on your service and sacrifice,” Wamp said. “I think most of you agree it’s a nonsensical time in American politics, but if you look half a world away, we’re reminded that so much of the world is tribal.”

Kelly turned his attention to homelessness among the veteran’s community.

“Just yesterday, I attended a celebration of our monumental investment towards ending veterans homelessness in our region,” Kelly said. “Thanks to a nonprofit called Frontline Response and the Heart of the Lion Foundation, we will soon be home to a $25 million campus, specifically for veterans experiencing homelessness with health resources, workforce development support.”

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann celebrated the Chattanooga National Cemetery's expansion in the form of a story.

“These great veterans behind me and many in the audience have for years, for years, worked with them to try and expand our great national cemetery,” Fleischmann explained he worked across party lines to secure an addition to the cemetery. “When times get difficult, we have to put away our partisan differences and always stand up for our veterans.”

As the event concluded, many veterans hesitated to filter out and head home. Instead, servicemen like retired Air Force veteran Ralph Taylor stayed to catch-up with his service friends– many of whom graduated high school together. 

“We got a class Christmas party coming up in December, so we’re trying to keep in touch with who’s still alive, still around,” Taylor said after sharing his thoughts regarding the event. “We appreciate those kinds of visibility for us.”

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