'Our nation will always be grateful for the noble sacrifice made'
WWI plaque dedicated at Dixon's Veterans Memorial Park
DIXON – A light rain began to fall on the nearly 100 people who gathered at Veterans Memorial Park on Monday morning, the site of Dixon's Veterans Day observance.
Like other gatherings throughout the country Monday, there was a singing of the national anthem, playing of taps and a 21-gun salute, in addition to speeches from military personnel, veterans and elected officials.
State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, told the crowd he saw a fitting tribute in the wet, cold weather, saying that those who served lived and trained in such weather.
Maj. Gen. Michael Robert Smith, who is stationed at the Rock Island Arsenal, gave the Veterans Day address. He called for awareness of the nearly 50,000 American military personnel currently stationed in Afghanistan and "thousands more throughout the world."
"On this Veterans Day, let us pause to reflect the sacrifices of all who have put on the uniform to serve in the military," he said. "From Bunker Hill, during our Revolutionary War, to the treacherous mountains of Afghanistan, there is a long, gray line – or rather a camouflaged line – of service members who have stepped into the breach, during our nation's hour of need, and did their duty."
More than a million Americans have died while serving in the military, Smith said, and more than 1.5 million have been wounded, some with lasting disabilities.
"Our nation will always be grateful for the noble sacrifice made by these veterans," he said. "We can never adequately repay them, but we can honor and respect them for their service."
Smith called on Americans to hire veterans who are coming home from active military duty. They developed valuable skills while in the military, he said, and their contributions can be seen in things like Veterans Memorial Park, which was built by veterans.
According to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center, fewer Americans have served in active military duty in the past decade – less than 1 percent – than at any time since the peacetime era between World War I and World War II.
"It's not the same as it was in World War II, where in every neighborhood there was somebody that served," Smith said after the ceremony. "You knew someone, either a family member or a friend whose family member had passed away. Today, when soldiers come back, you have 99 percent that have not served, so the veteran coming back, they've sacrificed, they've committed themselves to a cause greater than themselves, which, when you think about it, is pretty remarkable today."
After the ceremony, when most of the crowd had left, Jim James, chairman of the Dixon Veterans Memorial Park Commission, led the unveiling and dedication of a new World War I plaque.
The Lee County Genealogical Society donated the plaque, which includes the names of 49 Lee County residents who lost their lives fighting that war.
From in front of a F-105 fighter jet at the eastern edge of the park, Dick Herbon read the names.
"... Albert Johnson ... Conrad Miller," he said. "... William Patton ... William Powell ..."