Catoosa County and the city of Ringgold observed Veterans Day with word, song and prayer on a chilly November evening.
"It's an honor and privilege to be here today with all of you as we celebrate and remember those who fought, died and served to preserve our freedoms," Keith Greene said to a crowd assembled at the Catoosa Citizens' and Veterans' Memorial.
The chairman of the County Board of Commissioners and a retired U.S. Army officer, Greene asked all veterans attending the annual "Tribute to America" to stand.
"These veterans have endured great hardships, separation from family and drastically altered lifestyles," he said. "Some experienced the horrors of war. All sacrificed something so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have today. These are ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things."
Veterans Day was originally know as Armistice Day, a time to commemorate the end of combat during World War I. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 was when an armistice to end what was considered the "war to end all wars" was signed.
One year later President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 a national holiday with the words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations..."
But World War I was not the war to end all wars, and in 1954 President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation, which stated: "In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose."
Every Nov. 11, that common purpose is shown during ceremonies at the memorial situated at the Benton Place Campus.
This year's service was dedicated to the memory of Richard Stinson, who died Aug. 12, for his dedicated support to the Memorial Foundation.
The ages of the four-man Honor Guard of Ridgeland High School JROTC cadets, when added together would be less than many of those veterans who stood, some relying on the aid of canes or companions, as the colors were posted.
But it was not just old soldiers who were honored.
"Part of that debt is owed to the military families who have sacrificed so much for their country," Greene said. "While veterans are often ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things, it is often an extraordinary family that supports the ordinary veteran."
In addition to recognition of everyone who served or whose family members served their country in uniform, four individuals - a Veteran of the Year and an Outstanding Patriotic Citizen of the Year, one each for Walker and Catoosa counties - were honored.
Ken Marks, a decorated veteran of Vietnam, was named Catoosa County Veteran of the Year, while Jerry Haymons was named the Walker County recipient of that award.
Joe Barger, a World War II veteran and mayor of Ringgold, was chosen as Patriotic Citizen of the Year for Catoosa County, with state Sen. Jeff Mullis receiving that honor for Walker County.
This year, special Outstanding Community Service Awards were presented to the county governments of both Catoosa and Walker counties for response and recovery efforts in the aftermath of tornadoes that struck in April.
Immediately following the Benton Place ceremony, Barger headed to Ringgold where the city's downtown streets and courthouse lawn are decorated as part of the city's Veterans Celebration of Flags. What began with several dozen flags this year has grown to number 936 U.S. flags and small white crosses bearing the names of deceased veterans.
After sunset, the Ringgold Depot filled to capacity to hear the nationally acclaimed Jericho Brass, a 28-piece traditional British stye brass band under the direction of Frank Hale, perform a concert of patriotic tunes.
"It is the veterans that have given us this extraordinary country," Greene said. "Thank you all for your sacrifice."