“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row”
Those are the first two stanzas of the famous poem written by Canadian physician John McCrae after presiding over the burial of his friend Lt. Alexi Helmer following the second battle of Ypres in Belgium during World War I.
Here in the United States this poem is often recited on Memorial Day in recognition of the lives lost in the service to the nation through military service. But the recitation of the poem today, Veterans Day, is also appropriate in light of what this day in 1918 represents when, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, armistice was signed between the two warring parties in World War I. At that time that it was believed to be the war to end all wars.
In Europe the day is known as Remembrance Day and is recognized in a more somber fashion, while in the U.S. we celebrate the day with parades and activities acknowledging our military service members and their families.
In fact, Carteret County is recognized for its Veterans Day activities and particularly its annual parade usually conducted down Arendell Street in Morehead City. This year the COVID-19 pandemic has altered this annual event, but just as the men and women in uniform have proven time and again, when the cause is justified they will persevere.
This year’s parade is being conducted as a virtual event which began Saturday, the day the parade would have been conducted, and continues through today. The “Virtual Veterans Day Parade” developed by the Veterans Coalition of the Crystal Coast can be found online at www.amreicanlegion/veterans. The program consists of comments by Grand Marshals and other VIPs, and a variety of images submitted by registered participants.
In addition to the virtual activities there will be live events including ceremonies conducted at Bayview Cemetery in Morehead City honoring fallen veterans to include a Remembrance Service for three British sailors also interred at the cemetery.
Though the county will miss its annual public display of appreciation for our military services, there will continue to be an enduring respect and support for both the military retirees and active duty service members. This level of respect is due primarily to the efforts of Col. Hank Gotard, USMC, who served as the county’s veterans services director after 30 years of military service. Last year he retired as Veterans Services Director after 24 years in that position.
In a News-Times article about his announced retirement Col. Gotard noted that when he took the position in 1994 the assistant head of the Department of Veterans Affairs stated that “Carteret County was the least-served county in the state for veterans.” Col. Gotard and his wife Edie set about changing that condition, raising the awareness of veteran’s issues in the county with a myriad of programs such as the establishment a post-traumatic stress disorder group, organizing three honor flights for WWII veterans and a monthly luncheon for military retirees, ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out). Despite the name, women were also members of the group.
Because of Col. Gotard’s efforts, Carteret County’s Veterans Services gained recognition as the most responsive and effective program in the state.
The county’s Veterans Day Parade stands out as a major example of that success. Bob Kirk, a member of the Veterans Coalition of the Crystal Coast and American Legion Post 46, noted that when Col. Gotard arrived the county’s annual parade was usually a 15-minute event. By the time of Col. Gotard’s retirement, the parade consisted of hundreds of parade units with as many as 2,000 participants, not including thousands watching along the parade route.
Though the county is not able to celebrate Veterans Day as in the past, the appreciation continues. Today as we acknowledge the service of our veterans and their families and recall with humility and deep appreciation their sacrifices, we say thank you and wish you a Happy Veterans Day.