Col. Chic Schoener's memories of fellow fallen U.S. Marines during the Vietnam War had him stop and apologize to the crowd for his emotions, his voice breaking during his speech at the Ormond Memorial Art Museum's annual Veterans Day Observance on Saturday, Nov. 11.
"No, don't be sorry," said a woman in the front of the audience. "Thank you."
Schoener told the stories of Marines who embodied the statement "leave no man behind." He mentioned the account of a 24-year-old man who threw themselves over an injured soldier to protect them from enemy fire, resulting in his death, and how two Marines survived after their helicopter was shot down by Vietnamese soldiers.
Another story he told was that of 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Darwin Judge who helped a fellow Marine's three-year-old Vietnamese daughter escape Saigon during the early days of evacuation at the U.S. Embassy in the city. Judge later died after the DAO compound was hit by rocket fire on April 29, 1975. He and 21-year-old Cpl. Charles McMahon became the last American ground casualties in Vietnam.
“Those who make the decision to serve and put themselves in harm’s way are not the type of people to sit around crying about lack of appreciation," Schoener said, reciting a quote he stumbled upon. "But the nation that goes out of its way to thank its veterans is a better nation. Remember, honor the warrior and not the war.”
The event was hosted by former Ormond Beach Mayor Fred Costello, who said Schoener served his country well, accumulating 4,800 flight hours during his time in the Marines, 800 of which were spent in combat.
“For over 200 years, more than 42 million American men and women have answered the call to defend our nation, with over one million making the ultimate sacrifice," Costello said. "While today we focus on veterans who have served, we must never forget we have American men and women who still serve and are still in harm’s way today.”
Another veteran that spoke at the event was Sgt. John James who is a a former Army missile technician. James is also a member of OMAM's monthly art outreach program for veterans and his art has been on display at the museum for the past two yearly exhibits.
“I can say that art has helped me now focus on changing my life but also has helped me to reintegrate myself into society," James said. "I find myself volunteering more and more.”
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis also spoke at the Veterans Day observance event. He said the constant that has allowed the U.S. to do well is that the American veteran has served with honor, integrity and distinction in defense of the country.
“A veteran is somebody from the beginning of our country to the present who has written a check payable to the United States of America for amount up to and including that individual’s life," DeSantis said.
He said the U.S. was founded, not on a common ethnicity, religion or land to defend, but instead on certain enduring principles and ideals that pull the country together, such as freedom, limit on government powers and the U.S. Constitution.
“Veterans Day is more than just about one military operation," DeSantis said. "Really, Veterans Day is the story of how you keep a society free.”