Hundreds attend annual Veterans Day Ceremony

PASO ROBLES — Hundreds of people gathered under the shade of the Oak trees at the Paso Robles District Cemetery on Monday to honor America’s veterans.

The traditional Veterans Day Ceremony began promptly at 11 a.m. with a flyover by the Estrella Warbird Museum. 

Paso Robles VFW Post 10965 Commander Salvador Cota emceed the ceremony and thanked everyone for taking time out of their holiday to remember military veterans, past and present.

“We understand that Veterans Day is a day of deep significance and opportunity,” Cota said to the stand-room-only crowd of veterans proudly wearing caps and or jackets signifying when they served who were seated and standing next to friends and family showing their patriotism by wearing America’s colors — red, white and blue. “It is a day when recognize and honor the millions of men and women who answered when their nation called. All of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have selflessly gone whenever and wherever they were called.”

Nearly every speaker talked about the history of Veterans Day.

Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, was originally set as a U.S. legal holiday to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on Nov. 11, 1918. In legislation that was passed in 1938, Nov. 11 was “dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day. 

In 1954, after having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress — at the urging of the veterans’ service organizations — amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, Nov. 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

US Army Signal Activity Camp Roberts First Sgt. Gregory Massey in his welcome speech not only talked about the sacrifices of veterans, but also of those closest to them.

US Army Signal Activity Camp Roberts First Sgt. Gregory Massey gave the welcome speech at the Veterans Day Ceremony on Monday, Nov. 11, at the Paso District Cemetery.

“Over and over again veterans have stepped up to the call to defend our nation,” Massey said. “But I would also like to say thank you to all of the friends and family that without you our job is nearly impossible.”

Massey relayed a question about veterans from his young son.

“He asked, ‘Dad what is a veteran,’” Massey said. “I said, ‘Veterans are ordinary people like you and me, Americans all, and yet they perform extraordinary deeds, feats of heroism and valor, ever ready to risk their lives to protect you and me and America.”

Massey introduced the ceremony’s guest speaker, US Army Garrison Fort Hunter Liggett Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Fluckiger, who explained he is the right-hand man of Fort Hunter Liggett Command Col. Charles Bell Jr.

US Army Garrison Fort Hunter Liggett Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Fluckiger was the guest speaker of the Veterans Day Ceremony at the Paso Robles District Ceremony on Monday, Nov. 11.

Fluckiger opened with a quote from President John F. Kennedy, who was the 35th president of the United States, during his speech at Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 11, 1961.

“President Kennedy said, ‘We celebrate this Veterans Day for a very few minutes, a few seconds of silence and then this country’s life goes on. But I think it most appropriate that we recall on this occasion, and on every other moment when we are faced with great responsibilities, the contribution and the sacrifice which so many men and their families have made in order to permit this country to now occupy its present position of responsibility and freedom, and in order to permit us to gather here together,’” Fluckiger said.

Later Fluckiger recounted the story of Sgt. Arthur Cyrus Morris as told by dear friend Lt. Lance Wickman. 

Wickman had been in Vietnam for several months. He was the leader of a rifle platoon that saw a great deal of combat.

One day, deep in hostile territory several of the men were wounded in a firefight and one of them was Sgt. Morris.

Eventually, the men of the patrol limped back and they radioed for a medical evacuation helicopter. As the wounded men boarded the chopper, Wickman urged Sgt. Morris also to get aboard. He refused. A second and third time Wickman urged him. And again he resisted. At last Wickman admonished him, “Get on that chopper,” Fluckiger said. “He looked at me his eyes, earnest, pleading, ‘Please sir,’ he said (to Wickman), ‘let me stay with my men.’”

Area Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts salute the flag during the Veterans Day Ceremony in Paso Robles.

Wickman relented and waved away the chopper with its lifeline to tomorrow. Before the sun had set that very day, Morris lay dead upon the ground fell by hostile fire.

“Sgt. Morris is just one example of the sacrifice, commitment and loyalty to each other and our great country in the name of peace and freedom which makes this nation what it is today,” Fluckiger said.

Fluckiger also relayed the story of a military chaplain’s struggle with PTSD, the help they received and how people’s perceptions have changed over the years.

“Now for me personally I believe that today, unlike the days of old, our military leaders are increasingly more sensitive, responsive and supportive of the emotional and physical struggles our veterans face,” Fluckiger said. “There is help for our men and women who face the difficulties of dealing with the pains of war.”

A girl gets a better view of the Veterans Day Ceremony on Monday at the Paso Robles District Cemetery.

Fluckiger wrapped up his comments by pointing out that veterans are more than just people who served in the military and they can be found in all walks of life.

“Right now all across the country they serve as teachers, doctors, engineers, social workers, community leaders, first responders, and elected officials,” Fluckiger said. “They continue to serve our community by making positive contributions, building stronger futures, and inspiring future generations.”

The invocation and closing prayer were led by Fort Hunter Liggett Chaplain Maj. Levi Marshall. 

Local Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts led the Pledge of Allegiance. 

The Paso Robles Fire Department had a large American flag draped from its ladder truck at the entrance to the cemetery.

Following the ceremony, the crowd enjoyed coffee, hot chocolate, cookies, provided by the cemetery, and a hot dog lunch, courtesy of Kuehl-Nicolay Funeral Home.

Flags were placed at all identified veterans graves by members of the American Legion Post 50 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10965.

A large flag hangs from the Paso Robles Fire Department ladder truck during the Veterans Day Ceremony at the Paso Robles District Cemetery.