If I were to compile a list of the most memorable moments in my life, it would certainly include my wedding day, the births of my daughters and graduating from college. And, if you were to have asked me at any point prior to Veterans Day yesterday, I would have told you that nothing could match those moments — or even come close.
After Wednesday morning, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, I was wrong. After Wednesday morning, I knew moving to Brown County from Missouri was probably one of the best decisions I had made in my 34 years of existence. After Wednesday morning, I now have another item to add to the “memorable moment” list.
Nearly 16 years into my military career — some active, and the rest in the Army National Guard, I was honored when asked to take part in two different activities on Veterans Day.
The morning began with a stop at Northwest Elementary. As I rounded the building from the back parking lot, I was greeted by several of the staff and asked if I would help meet students as they were unloading in the drop-off zone. If the kids didn’t introduce themselves and shake my hand, they would say things like “Good morning, sir” or “Hi, Army man.” Some would ask if I knew this soldier or that Marine, or inquire about the scorching summer heat in Iraq.
After the kids were ushered inside, for what I am assuming was for attendance purposes, the kids were brought back outside. As I introduced myself, I explained that, as a group, we would be reciting the pledge of allegiance to the American and Texas flags, followed by the playing of the National Anthem.
As I said the words “pledge of allegiance,” I saw something that for the rest of my life will be etched into my memory. Almost in unison, I observed as more than an estimated 200 elementary-aged kids stood up straight and placed their hands over their hearts. From that point in the day, I had a smile that could not be erased — and that was only the beginning. To the students and staff of Northwest Elementary, thank you for reminding me, as a veteran, of the importance of Veterans Day and showing your patriotism.
After a quick stop at the office, I was coliseum-bound for the annual parade. As an officer of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3278, I was equally excited to be asked to accompany my comrades on the parade route. I sat with Staff Sgt. (retired) Wes Reynolds, and behind us on the float were the heroes of previous generations who paved the way that allows me the honor to wear the uniform.
Proceeding along the parade route was phenomenal. People on the sidewalks were saying “thank you” and waving American flags. Due to conflicting schedules, I did not think my wife and daughters would be able to attend. To my surprise, I saw my wife Beth, daughters Lauren and Tiffany, my sister-in-law Colleen and nephew Alex and niece Alyssa perched in front of a business. My gorgeous redheaded daughter was holding a sign that said, “We Love You, Daddy.” As a father of four daughters, and to see that – well, all I can say is that I am glad I was wearing sunglasses that hid my eyes. To my wife and family, thank you.
The last couple of turns on the route were flanked by students from Coggin Elementary School, who were waving hand-drawn American flags, signs of support and yelling “thank you.” To the students at Coggin Elementary, thank you.
As I sit here late in the afternoon Wednesday, I am still smiling. I realize just how proud I am to wear the uniform and how blessed I am to be able to call this place home.
Rick Phelps is a staff writer for the Brownwood Bulletin, and is assigned to the 111th Engineer Battalion of the Texas Army National Guard at Camp Bowie.