Stuttgart Veterans Day ceremony reflects on decades of service
STUTTGART, Germany — The regulars were there. Old soldiers who show up for these things.
So were a few current troops, a handful of families and some Junior ROTC teens from Patch High School. About 70 people in all.
The Veterans Day observance at Patch Barracks took 25 minutes. The old vets sounded a little disheartened that the crowd was not bigger.
“It should be well advertised,” said Donald Owens, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10810 in Stuttgart. “And if a soldier should attend, it should be on his own recognizance.
“To me, that would show valor, patriotism and honor.”
At the Patch ceremony, the traditional POW-MIA table was set: a single empty chair, a red rose symbolizing the bloodshed, a slice of lemon on a plate for the POW’s bitter fate, salt sprinkled as a reminder of fallen tears, an inverted drinking glass that would not be toasted.
Two wreaths of flowers were placed. After the weekend, they’ll be placed at a veteran’s grave. Taps was played for those who had died. A few prayers were said and speeches made, including one by U.S. European Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Bartelle.
“I try to strike a chord with the individual,” Bartelle said, “that the memory of those who served should not be forgotten. That the sacrifice they made, and (the sacrifice) of those who are serving now, should not be forgotten as well.”
The old soldiers knew that other events marking the day were taking place. Some units were doing their own thing, one suggested. The Patch event just happened to be small, they said, but still heartfelt.
“To me, [Veterans Day] is one of the biggest things there is,” said William Wiessner, a veteran of World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Wiessner recalled being part of the post-World War II occupation in Stuttgart. At a social event in 1947, he was introduced to a German woman who would teach him to dance.
“For 52 years she tried to teach me,” Wiessner said of his late wife, Hermine.
Jerry Stottlemyer, another vet, said he was spit on after returning from Vietnam.
Over at the commissary, veterans were giving out “Buddy Poppies” in exchange for donations to help veterans in need. Business was steady as shoppers buzzed in and out of the store, stocking up for the holiday weekend.
On Nov. 15, 1950, James W. Johnson landed in North Korea aboard a Landing Ship Tank for the “Forgotten War.”
“I didn’t forget it,” he said, standing behind the “Buddy Poppy” table.
Johnson also served in Vietnam and looked back with a sour memory on the anti-war demonstrations. He said he wanted to go to Washington and get in a fight with the demonstrators, “and kill them. I really did.”
U.S. troops in Iraq need public support, he said.
“After 9/11, if President Bush didn’t do anything, people would say he didn’t do this or didn’t do that,” Johnson said. “Now they complain because he’s doing something.
“You can’t satisfy stupid people.”
Frank De Ciccio, 83, was also spending his Veterans Day raising money for needy vets. De Ciccio, who landed on Normandy Beach, France, three days after the start of the famed World War II invasion, noticed the small crowd at the Patch ceremony.
“You’d think with such an important event,” he said, “more people would take cognizance of so many sacrifices that were made.”