On a cold and rainy Veterans Day in 2000, a crowd of over a thousand people gathered at the Ellis County Civic Center in Waxahachie, Texas. They came in tribute to veterans past and present to dedicate a beautiful monument honoring their service. One of those in attendance, scheduled to speak, was a Vietnam veteran with tears in his eyes at the sight of so many. Never having experienced such an event, he was simply overwhelmed with emotion.
This memorial and its corresponding ceremony were a combined effort, over a decade in time, by two initial residents who wondered why the single monument in town honored only their Civil War veterans. In the nearly thirteen years since its dedication, this annual Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day has grown in leaps and bounds to create a truly remarkable occasion. It addresses our military conflicts from WWI to the War on Terror and includes all branches of service.
Patriotic emotions are stirred by a swing band’s music and song relevant to each era, while the annual reading of a veteran’s story, accompanied by photos, is a visceral reminder of their commitment and character. Giant screens reflect 700 poignant images of military men and women over the years, as well as a Memorial of young faces, frozen in time, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. As emblems and songs are presented for each branch, veterans are asked to stand, if able, and meet heart-felt applause in appreciation. The oldest representative this past year, 102 years of age, joined the others in rising.
In creating this yearly observance as a moving acknowledgment to our military forces, a committee and 100 volunteers donate countless hours of effort and describe as the highlight of their year. Participants include – among others – the Department of Public Safety, Texas Civil Defense, civic and military representatives, church and auxiliary groups, Boy Scouts, and ordinary citizens. The program’s music and images address the mood, triumphs, and sacrifice in our nation’s history. The processions and audience participation reflect a joint endeavor by multiple groups in celebration and remembrance. A military fly over of vintage aircraft and the laying of a wreath concludes a heartfelt and inspirational ceremony.
Appreciation from veterans for this tribute is evident each and every year. Following the program’s conclusion in 2011, a WWII veteran slowly made his way to the Co-Chairman and thanked him repeatedly with both hands gripping his in a fervent hand-shake. He had tears in his eyes and emotion somewhat out of character to someone who had known him for 40 years. The Co-Chairman, a guardian with him on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. the year before, would never see him again. The veteran died suddenly four weeks later.
“We were soldiers once and young… Remember us.”