‘A fragile thing’

Veterans Day observed at Central Texas Veterans Memorial

Steve Nash / Brownwood Bulletin
Retired Army Col. Tom Gray, commander of American Legion Post 196, and World War II veteran Gussie Seiler of Brownwood exchange salutes Wednesday during the Veterans Day observance at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial. Gray and post vice commander Harold Stieber presented Seiler with the World War II participation medal.

On a sun-splashed Wednesday morning, community members and speakers observed Veterans Day at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial in Brownwood, honoring two heroes who are no longer living, and calling out two veterans who were present for special recognition.

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham was unable to attend as the keynote speaker as scheduled because she was exposed to COVID.

Interspersed among the remarks of speakers Steve Kelly, past president of the Central Texas Veterans Committee, Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes, State Rep.-elect Glenn Rogers and retired Navy Chaplain Jim Looby were the dedications of plaques honoring World War II heroes Norman Chesser of Brownwood and James Early Rudder.

“We can agree and we can disagree on political beliefs and political opinions," Haynes said. "But one thing this country will always agree upon is that those who have given service to this country are due honor and recognition and praise.

 “One of the best things we can do to honor our veterans is to honor the things that they fought for.” 

Chesser survived the Bataan Death March. Rudder commanded the Pointe du Hoc battle during the Invasion of Normandy. He also commanded U.S. troops during the Battle of the Bulge. Rudder went on to serve as mayor of Brady, as Texas land commissioner and as president of Texas A&M University.

Robert O’Malley, a former Marine who won the Medal of Honor for his actions during a battle in Vietnam in 1966, was called forward for recognition.

World War II veteran Gussie Seiler was also called forward. Retired Army Col. Tom Gray, president of American Legion Post 196, and Harold Stieber, the post’s vice commander, presented Seiler with a World War II participation medal.

As Haynes and Rogers gave back-to-back addresses, both quoted from former President Ronald Reagan’s speech when he was first inaugurated as governor of California in 1967:

“Perhaps you and I have lived with this miracle too long to be properly appreciative,” Regan said in the 1967 speech. “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. 

“It is not ours by inheritance. It must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.”

Rogers said Reagan’s words “are apt this morning.”

Rogers also said he wanted to repeat the words of Looby, the retired Navy chaplain and one of Rogers’ fellow speakers Wednesday morning.

“When we talk to our young people today, freedom must be taught,” Rogers said, quoting Looby. “The idea that we fought for our freedoms and our veterans have served and fought for those freedoms must be shared with our children.”  

Looby in his address talked about  “the spirit of camaraderie” among veterans.

“You forget the difficult times,” Looby said. “You forget the bureaucracy. You forget all of those difficult experiences, those deployments, the the things that are draining on yourself and your family. You remember the good times and the good things that you experienced.”

Looby said Veterans Day is  “a day of remembering and sharing with our brothers in arms. … we honor individuals with plaques. We honor them with statements. We honor them with interviews. We honor them here at the podium recognizing their service, celebrating their bravery, understanding what they went through.”

Looby urged young men and women to consider serving in the military, referring to “the opportunities that lie before them if they will enlist or commission in one of our military branches.

“These young people will learn responsibility, they’ll learn respect, they’ll learn a trade, they’ll be a better man and a better woman for having served.”