American flags flapped in the wind under a sunny bright blue sky on Monday morning.
Dozens of people bundled together on plastic chairs and bleachers at Veterans Memorial Park in Olathe, eager to pay their respects to servicemen and servicewomen who risked everything for their country.
Johnson County’s 26th annual Veterans Day observance honored Vietnam War veterans and paid tribute to two Johnson County servicemen — U.S. Army Pfc. Cale Miller and Sgt. Michael Knapp — who were killed in Afghanistan in May.
High school bands performed patriotic music, elementary school children sang and decorated veterans gave poignant remarks.
But to war heroes and relatives of fallen soldiers in the audience, the day meant more than just a beautiful ceremony.
Abby Knapp, who spoke at the ceremony about her husband, Michael, was overcome with emotion.
It was her first Veterans Day without her husband, who was killed in Afghanistan six months ago. She arrived at the ceremony with her 15-month-old daughter, Kinsley, and her parents.
“I definitely appreciate Veterans Day a lot more now, because of the significance it holds,” said Knapp of Overland Park. “ …It really meant a lot to me that they recognized Mike, because it’s going to help keep his memory alive for my daughter.”
John Hoehn, a retired Navy aviator representing the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 34, served in both the Vietnam War and Desert Storm before retiring in 1994. He presented a memorial wreath to display at the ceremony.
“Today is a day I reflect on friends I’ve lost and everything I’ve overcome,” said Hoehn of Lenexa. “Veterans Day is a time to remember all services together, as one nation. Some of us don’t make it back and some of us come home injured, but none of us stop serving.”
People like Hoehn and Knapp are exactly what Veterans Day and the ceremony are all about, said Gerald Hay, public information officer for the county manager’s office.
“When a soldier goes to war, his family goes to war,” Hay said. “It’s so much more than a serviceman in a uniform. It’s really sad we had to honor two families this year.”
Hay served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. He was particularly pleased that he and his fellow Vietnam soldiers around the country were finally receiving proper recognition.
“When I came home after serving in Vietnam, we didn’t get this kind of treatment,” Hay said. “It’s nice to finally give the Vietnam veterans the respect they deserve. You don’t have to respect the war, but you should always respect the warriors.”
On a sunny but chilly day, he was pleased so many Johnson County residents came out to pay their respects to people who risked their lives. Hay was also pleased by number of children who seemed genuinely excited to be there.
“Children are our future veterans, and Veterans Day is something each generation should be aware of,” he said. “Maybe one of these days, we can get 1,000 people to come out and celebrate this day, instead of 200. That would be nice.”