AUGUSTA – Veterans were honored during programs at Augusta and Brooksville on Friday.

A program at Augusta Independent School started with an introduction by AIS Principal Robin Kelsch.

His introduction was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, led by the kindergarten and first grade students. The AIS band performed the National Anthem and two students read poems for the veterans.

There were also excerpts from presidential veterans day speeches from the last four decades and a recognition of the veterans.

The guest speaker for the event was Major Gen. John Yingling who spent 35 years in the United States Army.

Yingling said he began his time in the Army after joining the Reserve Officer Training Corp in college. From there, he served many years.

"I can't say I was a model cadet," he said. "My very first assignment after graduating was to the Republic of Korea. Trips to Hong Kong and Taiwan gave me the travel bug. After that, I was stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas, where I met my wife, and after three children and 21 moves around the world, I retired after 35 years in the Army."

According to Yingling, he is not the only one in his family to have served in the military.

"My family has a history of serving in the military," he said. "My great-grandfather served in the Civil War and I even have a Civil War musket and boots on display in my house. My great-uncle was killed in World War II in France by a German sniper. My father served in the Navy and my brother in the Marine Corps. They were proud of their service. My son and daughter-in-law are both Army captains stationed at Fort Knox."

Yingling gave a brief history of Veterans Day.

"It's always a great day to honor a veteran or fallen hero," he said. "Veterans Day is important because it is a day we set aside to celebrate and honor those who have served us; those who flocked to defend our country and way of life. Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, where on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the end of World War I took place. They thought that was the war to end all wars, but as you know our country has been involved in many wars since then."

Yingling now lives in Augusta.

"We live in what we call our little slice of Heaven," he said. "When I first started in the Army, I never dreamed I would retire as a general. My goal was to do the best job I could each day and to always take care of soldiers and their families."

Yingling ended with discussing the importance of veterans.

"Veterans come from all walks of life. They are fathers, sons, mothers and daughters. They are ordinary people who've been asked to make extraordinary sacrifices for their country. They stand up for liberty, justice, equality and freedom. Our military is made up of volunteers. One in four people do not meet the minimum mental, physical and health requirements to serve. For you students considering the military, it's an honorable profession and one you could be proud of. It will provide a good career, college education and chance to see the world. Heaven help our country if the young people of today stop volunteering."

Yingling also told the students there are opportunities to serve the country outside the military with volunteering in the community.

The program ended with a video of Augusta veterans.

At Bracken County High School, before the Veterans Day program began, BCHS football players walked through the crowd of veterans and offered them American flags, as the football players were leaving for a game and could not attend the program.

BCHS teacher Sam Elsbernd was the guest speaker for the afternoon.

Elsbernd served in the U.S. Navy from 2009-2012 and left the Navy as a petty officer.

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"Veterans Day is a special day in this country. Students, the selfless service these men and women provided are why they're being honored today. These men and woman served in wars to keep peace and to honor the ones who came before them and protect the ones who came after them."

Elsbernd talked about Sept. 11, 2001, and why it changed his life.

"Everyone has one event where they knew exactly where they were when it happened, such as Pearl Harbor, President Kennedy being assassinated or the Challenger exploding; moments of sorrow that generations before you will never forget. For our generation, the event started as a Tuesday morning, but by the end of the day the whole world had changed. I was 16 years old and had a big mouth and small muscles. The world changed during first period that morning and my childhood ended right before 9 a.m. that day."

Elsbernd said he realized the country was at war when the planes hit the Twin Towers of the Wordl Trade Center in New York City that morning.

"I truly realized how important this day was, after school, when my football coach sent us home after school instead of practicing. I'll never forget him saying, 'there are some things more important than football.' There are things more important than football; the love of your family, our freedom and protecting your country is more important. I pray the world is a safer place for you."

Elsbernd also told students that is was OK to consider a career in the military.

"Some students are wondering what to do with the rest of their lives. Not only is that normal, but it's perfectly OK. Some of you have asked questions about joining the military. I hope my answers to you have helped you make a decision. While the numbers are in the hundreds of millions who served their country, but it's that much more special when you know someone personally. It's even more special when they're back on home soil."

During the program, several students from BCHS, Bracken County Middle School and Taylor Elementary School performed songs and read poems in honor of the veterans.

The program ended with a video honoring Bracken County veterans.


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