Willis Park ceremony reminds community of veteran’s sacrifices

Published 5:10 pm Friday, November 11, 2016



By John Simpson

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Life in America is a fast-paced adventure. In the past couple of years, we’ve become non-stop consumers of information for better or worse. Cultures are changing at a rapid pace, and we often forget to slow down.

Slowing down allows you to look around and see things you might miss otherwise. It allows you to appreciate the little things, the things you often overlook. We have a younger generation that wakes up every morning to a sense of freedom that is taken for granted because it has never been contested. In other words, some have become complacent.

There is an expectation of freedom, but no concept of what cost that freedom came with. What it truly took for Americans to have the life we have has been greatly overlooked. Our attention has been turned to divisive politics or who’s using what bathroom and who offended whom.

On a sunny Friday morning in Willis Park, with a cool breeze cutting through the trees, this crazy world we live in slowed down. The annual Willis Park Veterans Day Ceremony was upon us.

Veterans, citizens and students alike crowded in to the park to honor those who are responsible for that freedom. However this year there was a duality to the ceremony. On one hand, the past was rightfully honored; on the other hand, the future was being taught a lesson.

Retired Senior Master Sgt. Frank Geslack stepped up to the podium and delivered a humbling speech that resonated throughout the crowd. He spoke of how much Veterans Day means, and how important it is that the veterans be honored. There was no doubt about his passion for honoring the past, but he always placed an emphasis on ensuring that past be honored by the younger generations.

“It was great, and I’ll tell you what, I said there at the beginning it was really awesome to see every hand on every heart, and the salutes,” Geslack said after the ceremony. “Because you walk up and down parades and see them in the school and some teachers don’t put their hand over their hearts. A lot of our adults are not setting a good example and I think that’s why our country isn’t going in the right direction.”

Geslack made a connection to recently naturalized citizens and the oath of citizenship they need to take. The oath pledges to “defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and he commended new citizens for their understanding and their appreciation for all that that means. He wants the youth to have that same appreciation.

Understanding that oath and what it means is to appreciate the freedom this nation is known for, and that would not be possible without our veterans.    

“A lot of negative things have been said about this country, but I would not leave this country to go somewhere else,” said John Marshall, the Commander of the American Legion Post 502. “You can’t get it. You cannot go anywhere and get what we have here. Democracy means a lot, that’s why civics has to go back in to these schools so that people understand what democracy is all about.”

The high school band members and the Jr. ROTC that were in attendance today were able to see a glimpse of how much freedom cost. Following Geslack’s speech, John Marshall and Corporal Hill Yates laid a wreath at the veteran’s memorial. The wreath honored those who had served and passed away, and those who passed away while serving.

Yates responded with a one-word answer when asked how much this ceremony means to him year to year.

“More,” Yates said firmly through teary eyes.

With every passing year, the ceremony gets harder and harder for him but that is what drives him to do it.

“When I first became a member of the VFW, all of them were a lot older. I didn’t know many very well, but now you see some dying now that you been in the VFW with for 10, 15, 20 years,” said the Corporal.

Corporal Yates, John Marshall and Senior Master Sargent Geslack embody the spirit that Veteran’s Day honors. They have served and, without recognition to themselves, applaud others who have served. To this day they live with the same sense of selflessness that drove them to put country over themselves, a selflessness that some can only hope to ever reach.

They also embody the duality of the ceremony. They honor those who served with and before them, yet they speak to the younger generation to carry the torch. So, while the world spins faster and faster each day, Veteran’s Day provides the opportunity to put on the brakes and remind citizens of the cost of freedom.

As the ceremony wrapped up, a list of names was read. The names were of veterans that had passed away in between last year’s ceremony and this year. The crowd stood solemnly in remembrance. There was an elderly veteran in the audience who had spent the entirety of the ceremony sitting on his walker, yet when the list of those who passed was read he stood up and stood at attention. He stood straight as an arrow and saluted until all the names had been called before he sat back down. An appreciation that deep is some-thing that needs to be preserved.

John Marshall said, “What we’re trying to do with this every year is for the young people to understand the sacrifices that were made by people who really felt whole-hearted about this country and all the greatness of this country.”

As far as accomplishing the goal of showing the younger generation how much they have to honor, all it took was to slow down and look around. If they didn’t get the picture this year, maybe next year they will.