By Betsy Reason
As the Hamilton County Courthouse clock struck 11 a.m. on Thursday, U.S. Army Vietnam veteran James Martin took his place to welcome military veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, and nonveterans, who then bowed their heads for the opening prayer at the annual Veterans Day program in downtown Noblesville.
The ceremony each year at the Hamilton County War Memorial on the Courthouse Square is a pleasant reminder to honor all veterans, past and present.
“It’s the 100th anniversary of the (Tomb of the) Unknown Soldier in the year 2021,” Martin said, as tree leaves began to blow across the brick pavement just before the rain, which was forecast within the hour.
One hundred years ago on Thursday, on Nov. 11, 1921, the Tomb has since provided a final resting place for one of America’s unidentified World War I service members, with unknown soldiers from later wars added in 1958 and 1984, according to the website for the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., where the tomb is located, on a hill overlooking Washington, D.C.
As we celebrate 2021, Martin connected what “21” means at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The number 21, which symbolizes the highest military honor, the 21-gun salute, also is important during the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb, he said. “He takes 21 steps down the mat, and he stops and he faces east for 21 seconds, he turns north and stops for 21 seconds and takes 21 steps down the mat, right back to his spot.
“Since (July 2) 1937, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has never not been guarded,” Martin said.
In 1965, when Martin went in the Army and ended up at Fort Sill, at age 23, one of the jobs offered was for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “I turned it down.” Instead, he got a tour of Vietnam. Now, he said, “… Go see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”
Attention turned more local as Noblesville Mayor Chris Jensen spoke. “It’s great to be here with you this morning. I speak on behalf of 70,000 residents who call Noblesville home, and that is also accounting for 2,000 veterans who live in our city,” said Jensen, who offered remarks during the ceremony, his second Veterans Day program since becoming mayor in January 2020. “I say ‘thank you’ to each and every one of you for serving our country. I also want to thank those who stand behind you and allow you to serve our country.”
Jensen said, “Being a veteran is just more than just you, in the veteran sense, but your family is a part of that team as well. So I thank you all for all that you have done.”
He said he had been thinking about this holiday over the past couple of days. “I actually think, in principle, it’s one of my all-time favorites, which might sound odd. But it’s a day that we celebrate ‘the good guy’ and ‘the good gal.’ If you turn on TV today or spend any time on social media … it’s great to know there are ‘good guys and gals’ amongst us.”
He said, “Today is the day that we thank you. We remember those that are not here with us. And we honor the good guys, the good gals, who live in the City of Noblesville.”
Jensen drew attention to the City’s mental-health focus over the past couple of years during the COVID-19 pandemic. This past Monday, Jensen said he invited a Marine, the City’s deputy director of economic development, Chuck Haberman, to join him on a live Facebook feed, talking about mental health amongst our veterans in the community. “And I bring that up because, today, when you thank a veteran for their service or you remember a veteran who has been lost, make sure you also ask the veteran how they’re doing. Because that lesson on Monday taught me so much ….”
Eight minutes into the 12-minute ceremony, attention turned toward Congresswoman Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) of Noblesville, who was in attendance in the crowd.
“I want to thank all of you because you’re real freedom fighters … You risk your life for our public, and my deepest appreciation to all of you … You always have to remind us to never forget what you’ve done….and support you in the good times and bad times … I want to thank you again for what you’ve done for us, to be the greatest country that ever existed in the history of the world. I want to make sure that we, as a country, for future generations, for all of the people that risked their lives, I want to thank all of your families for what you have done … because that was a huge sacrifice. May God bless all of you, may God bless all of your families, and may God bless the greatest United States of America. Thank you for having me here today.”
While Spartz wore her patriotic red coat, many attendees sported their veterans hats and coats and patriotic colors on the Square, where large American flags were installed temporarily for the holidays, usually by the Noblesville Noon Kiwanians.
Regina Epperson, 75, stood under a red, white and blue VFW umbrella, which she held for her mom, Mary Joan Clark, 92. These ladies are the mother and grandmother of former county veterans services officer Lynn Epperson. Regina Epperson said the name of her brother, Steven Clark, who died in Vietnam at age 20, was printed on the Hamilton County War Memorial on the Courthouse Square. But she said, “We’re here for all of them.”
Spartz’s talk was followed by a 21-gun salute and playing of Taps bugle call just before the rain poured on the Square. Ham and beans and chili followed for all, indoors, at the American Legion Frank Huntzinger Post No. 45 and Ralph Lehr Veterans of Foreign War Post No. 6246 in Noblesville. The two posts annually co-sponsor the ceremony.
-Contact Betsy Reason at email@example.com. The VFW Post has maintained an All-American ranking the past three years, attained by being among the Top 25 posts in the division across the entire VFW. Read more about the Post’s accolades in the Betsy Reason column in an upcoming edition of The Times.