T.J. Taurus got it.
The 6-year-old, brought to Saturday’s Veterans Day commemoration on the Iola square by his great-grandfather Armand Pulley, a Vietnam veteran, was playing with his action figures while listening to speaker Col. Clifford Silsby.
When the Colonel spoke of men making the ultimate sacrifice for their nation, T.J.’s soldiers lay prone with a yellow leaf as a flag positioned over their fallen bodies.
“These are the ones who died,” he said softly.
Iolans of all ages and stripes — but predominantly veterans and their families — came out Saturday to honor and remember those who have served in our country’s wars, fighting and dying for our country’s freedom.
“Perhaps s most significant are the battles we do not have to fight,” Silsby noted, alluding to terrorist threats aborted thanks to the defensive action of the U.S. military.
Silsby also informed the crowd that veterans everywhere, deserving of our thanks, are in need.
Across the nation, 23 percent of those who are homeless are veterans, he said. Of those, 89 percent were honorably discharged; 47 percent served in Vietnam.
“Freezing in subzero temperatures; missing the births of their children; exposure to Agent Orange” as well as losing limbs and losing lives were all sacrifices made by veterans, Silsby noted.
There are 23 million living veterans, Silsby said, including those currently serving.
The present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have left 40,000 wounded, he said.
“There is no shortage of opportunities to assist those who have served,” he told about 100 Iolans gathered at the square.
“And don’t underestimate the power of simply saying ‘thank you.’”
Silsby was training officer at the National Guard in Iola from 1984 to 1994. He now serves as statewide facilities manager, based out of the Topeka area.
Silsby’s speech was followed by a reading of local Missing In Action, with a black balloon released for each name read.
The American Legion Honor Guard gave a single shot salute in memory of the local dead.
The Rev. Jim Rausch opened the morning’s ceremony with prayer, noting, “I stand as one of the many millions who have benefited from the sacrifice of others.”
The ceremony ended with Becky French, mother of four current and former servicemen, singing the Prayer of St. Francis — “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
FROM THE podium, the crowd moved to the bean pots, where 90 pounds of ham and beans was served up by the local Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
Chase LaPorte of Winfield was in line with his dad, Bill LaPorte, from Moran.
The younger is stationed at Fort Riley and has been on two tours of duty in Iraq, he said.
“Rumors are flying,” he said, that his crew will next be sent to Afghanistan.
Undaunted, LaPorte said “I’d rather go back. You feel like you’re not doing anything productive if you’re stateside.”
He has two more years to go in his enlistment, he said, adding of his future that “nothing is certain.”
Harold and Shirley McAdams have lived in Iola two years now, moving up from Lebanon, Mo.
Harold and his father both served in the armed forces, he said.
“My dad served in World War I,” McAdams said. “My dad said anybody who’d ever seen bad action wouldn’t talk about it. He told us he drove the wagons to the front, and that’s all he’d say.”
McAdams counts himself lucky. Although he served during “the Vietnam conflict,” it was from Mather Air Force Base in California, where he worked shipping out bombers, he said.
“My daddy said ‘Don’t get shot at if you don’t have to,’” McAdams noted.
Iolan Becky French was happy to have one son, Ben Myers, with her on the square. Another, Nick Myers, is currently on duty in Afghanistan.
“This is his seventh deployment, and he’s only 22,” she said. “Sometimes,” she added, “I just have to shut off the TV news. I just pray a lot for their protection,” she said of Nick and the other troops deployed.
Her four sons all chose to serve independently, French added. She is proud of them all.
“We have four girls, also,” she said. “We’re hoping they’ll all stay close.”
Other Iolans also participated as a “thank you” to family members who have served.
Glenda Isaacson has been building floats for the parade for at least seven years, she said. “My dad served in World War II; my granddad was in World War I; I had cousins who died in Vietnam and my great-great-great grandfather served in whatever war was way back then, probably the Civil war,” she noted. “I do this for my dad.”
Carrying a 45 foot-long flag in the crisp autumn weather were members of Iola’s National Guard 891st Engineering Battalion.
The flag required 35 men to hoist. Never once letting it furl or drop, they carried it level throughout Iola’s streets, rolling it with measured precision before stowing it, all in practiced form, in a large bin.
Throughout, the men were stoic, aware of so much said through those colors: red, white, blue.