U.S. Army veteran Tony Moreland said he's seen shocking disrespect for his country this year, from San Francisco 49ers football player Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem to people burning the American flag.
Moreland, a former U.S. Army policeman, now CEO of Georgia Probation Services, was the keynote speaker Friday for the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Born in Dade County, Ga., Moreland comes from generations of military men. He was taught to respect his country and he taught his eight children to do the same, but he said seeing how some veterans are treated makes him question his government.
Moreland said he gets mad when stories of soldiers injured in Afghanistan are ignored in favor of celebrity gossip, or when veterans wait months to see a doctor.
"I have a confession to make to you," he said. "I've wondered how much longer I could keep standing."
As Moreland spoke, a host of veterans, people wearing military regalia, students and civic groups sat under a sunny sky to mark Nov. 11, the anniversary of the end of fighting in World War I in 1918. Veterans then thought that was the war to end all wars.
"There are a whole lot of people here who can testify that it didn't turn out that way," Moreland said.
The Vietnam Veterans of America Post 203 presented the colors and Jo Bridges of American Legion Post 95 auxiliary recognized the Gold Star mothers and wives in the audience, whose spouses or children died while serving in the military.
"On Memorial Day we honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, but today we honor all who have served," said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, whose father was a World War II veteran.
People who serve in the military write a blank check to the government with their lives because no one is certain what's going to happen, Fleischmann said.
Dressed in bright blue blazers, red neckties and white shirts, the Choo Choo Chorus sang the Armed Forces Medley to honor veterans from all branches of the military.
"This is one of the greatest things I do all year," said Terry Siler, who retired from the U.S. Coast Guard as a chief warrant officer. "I'm proud of our 145 Coast Guard veterans who are buried in this cemetery and everybody else."
Moreland called out Kaepernick and others whose behavior, he said, ignores the sacrifices of military veterans and their families. He said protesters should vote to have their issues resolved or get political representation that will address them, not snub those who make their protest possible.
"When they play the national anthem the reason I'm standing up is not because of some politician or some piece of cloth. It's for all those people who came before me," Moreland said.
"For that football player, I want to tell him, "If you don't stand up for any other reason, you ought to stand because you live in a country where you can kneel during the national anthem and nobody will put you in jail and nobody is going to kill you because of all the people who came before you and gave you that right."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.