As he spoke to the veterans gathered at the John Gainous VFW Post 10069 Monday morning Kesley Colbert eloquently characterized the day for so many who never served in the military.


As he spoke to the veterans gathered at the John Gainous VFW Post 10069 Monday morning Kesley Colbert eloquently characterized the day for so many who never served in the military.



How do you thank people who have helped provide everything you have?



The freedom, the liberty, the right of open and free speech, the right of thought and religious belief – how do we thank those men and women who answered when the country called?



Colbert, whose father served in World War II and his brother in Vietnam, put it succinctly.



“I have had the opportunity to speak in front of a lot groups but this is the most prestigious audience I have ever spoken to,” Colbert said. “The people who have served took my place. I appreciate that.



“We don’t have the words to honor you, the words to tell you we love you. This is a country because we have had those that served. I can’t thank you enough. I can’t honor you enough to let me stand in front of you.”



Words might be found lacking, but the children at the county’s schools spent Monday doing their best to honor the veterans that walk among us and those in history on whose shoulders we stand.



Gulf County Schools are among the few districts in the state on which the federal holiday is not celebrated with the day off, but with a day of honoring heroes.



“The spirit of the American veteran is the spirit of the United States,” said Lt. Commander (Ret.) Marty Jarosz as Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School held its annual ceremony, which this year included the students from Port St. Joe Elementary School and Faith Christian School.



“We salute all veterans who helped provide us with the freedom and liberty we enjoy today,” said school board member Linda Wood.



This year’s ceremony inside “The Dome” was also special in that the students and guests provided a special “Welcome Home” in unison to veterans of Vietnam, most of who were not made to feel welcome when they returned from a war that had become polarizingly unpopular at home.



That war lives on, said one veteran, just as the service of veterans lives on in all.



“Vietnam still lives with us every day of our lives just as with World War II veterans and all the other veterans,” said Johnny Linton, who emotionally recounted his time as a helicopter door gunner.



The forward insertion of five soldiers attacked and killed on the ground while Linton and his helicopter crew listened, for example, or the best friend who was killed in action seven days before he was to leave Vietnam for home.



For Linton, the memories were fresh and remained painful.



But in all, from Wewahitchka to the VFW Post in Highland View to Port St. Joe it was a day of tears and cracking voices combined with salutes and applause.



“We salute all veterans because if we didn’t have those who sacrificed their time and talent we wouldn’t be the country we are today,” Colbert told the students, after reciting, as he does each year, “The Grand Old Flag.”



“We are all still mighty proud of that old flag – these veterans and these students who have filled this auditorium.”



Wewahitchka



Third-graders at Wewahitchka Elementary School celebrated their 30th annual program by treating their visiting vets to a tribute that included poetry readings with each stanza being delivered by a different student.



Students greeted visiting veterans with a salute, and honored each branch of the military individually by regaling the crowd with their respective service hymns.



Distinguished guests to the program included a handful of veterans, their families and the school welcomed Ed Doyle, a 92-year-old resident of Wewahitchka, who attends the festivities each year to pay his respects.



This marked the seventh year that the Veteran’s Day program was organized by third-grade teacher John Huft, himself a military veteran. The program is his way of giving back to the men who not only served their countries, but serve their communities as well.



Star Staff Writer Wes Locher contributed to this report