Old soldiers “just fade away,” Gen. Douglas MacArthur famously said 60 years ago, but two of Iola’s most prominent are still very much on the scene.
Saturday Alfred Link, the soul of Iola’s Veterans Day observance since it was resurrected in 1989, again moderated the pre-parade program. Nearby in a wheelchair but as outgoing as ever was Bob Lane.
The two men haven’t missed a Veterans Day event on the square and neither ever is at loss when it comes to showing their patriotism. Both were in uniform Saturday, Link’s accentuated by his trademark red socks.
Lane beamed at the pomp and circumstances associated with remembering the roles soldiers, sailors and marines have played in keeping America the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave,” as did Link, still mobile with help of a cane and occasional assistance from friends.
“We started this in 1989 after it was discontinued,” in about 1960, “but we need some help keeping it going,” Link said in his annual plea for volunteers.
The Veterans Committee, also instrumental in establishing the Veterans Memorial Wall on the courthouse lane, meets the third Wednesday of each month at his home, 623 S. Sycamore.
“We’re down to about six of us and we need some young blood to keep things ago,” Link said.
LT. COL. Eric Blankenship followed Becky French’s rendition of the national anthem to open this year’s services.
“The word veteran may bring to mind someone who is now elderly and long retired, who may have served in World War II, Korea or Vietnam,” said Blankenship, commander of the 891st Engineer Battalion, which has its headquarters company and full-time detachment stationed in Iola. “With the events of Sept. 11, 2001, our veterans are a lot younger, many are still serving their country and the state in the National Guard.
“The new veteran is the man or woman next door, who may be a homemaker, a college student or someone working at the desk next to you. — someone who left one day and returned a year later,” he said.
During the past year more than 73,000 citizen-soldiers have been deployed in support of operations around the world.
Blankenship recalled how World War I was to have been “the war to end all wars,” but “we know history turned out differently. In every age since, freedom has been threatened and new generations have stepped forward to safeguard our freedom.”
He noted how Guardsmen have “become an operation force on the front lines, and in hometown America across the nation.”
Not all return, he added, and some face personal and family trauma.
“All who served and sacrificed deserve our thanks and respect,” he said, on the day set aside each year to remember them and show appreciation for all they have done.
“If you meet a veteran — whether a parent, a sibling, a friend or even a stranger — thank them for all they have done for all of us, for our military and our country,” he concluded.
IOLA ELKS had a bean feed following Blankenship’s speech and the release of 37 black balloons, each representing an Kansan missing in action. The Elks also treated veterans to lunch after the Veterans Day Parade, featuring a huge U.S. flag carried by 891st Engineer Battalion soldiers.