Former West Point chaplain speaks in Sterling

STERLING – How do you define a veteran?

That was the question Col. Thomas "Mike" Durham asked about 100 people who attended a Veterans Day ceremony Monday morning at Centennial Auditorium. Durham, now retired from the Army, was head chaplain at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

He proceeded to answer his own question with an oft-quoted response from an unknown author.

"A veteran is someone who, at one point in his/her life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America, for an amount of up to and including my life."

Durham added that those checks also are signed by the loved ones of those who serve their country. After veterans, by branch, stood for their applause during the "Armed Forces Medley," family members were asked to stand while the vets clapped for them.

Durham left the crowd with one final message to veterans.

"Thank you for your sacrifices, sense of duty, and service to the nation," he said. "Our country is filled with hope ... because history is shaped by heroes like our veterans."

After Durham's speech, Whiteside County Civil Air Patrol cadets gave a demonstration of how the U.S. flag is folded at military funerals. The flag is folded 13 times, with each fold having special symbolism. When the flag is completely folded, the stars are at the highest point as a reminder of the national motto, “In God We Trust.”

The ceremony ended with a 21-gun salute outdoors that could be clearly heard inside the auditorium, the playing of taps, and a prayer.