Luncheon, musical tribute honor veterans

Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rodwell L. Forbes' medals are seen in detail at Fort Meade's annual Veterans Appreciation Day Luncheon. Forbes was the keynote speaker at the event, held Nov. 5, 2016 at Club Meade. (Photo by Phil Grout)

In an inspirational and personally revealing speech, Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rodwell L. Forbes thanked veterans for their sacrifice and service to the nation at Fort Meade’s 15th Annual Veterans Appreciation Day Luncheon.

In his remarks, Forbes said veterans have “a heart of gold” and that they continue to serve the community and the nation in a way that “will have an impact on people’s lives that can never be erased.”

The luncheon, held Saturday at Club Meade, was hosted by the Retired Officers’ Wives’ Club and co-sponsored by the Francis Scott Key chapter of the Association of the United States Army; the Fort Meade chapter of the Military Officers’ Association of America; the General George G. Meade Chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars; the Fort Meade and Baltimore chapters of The Retired Enlisted Association; Fort Meade’s Enlisted Spouses’ Club; and Fort Meade’s Officers’ Spouses’ Club.

“[The event] always comes together and has a life of its own,” said Lianne Roberts, ROWC president.

Roberts said the organizations have joined together for more than a decade to honor Fort Meade and the nation’s veterans.

“We agreed to join forces to have one celebration,” she said. “This is the first year that our guest speaker is a noncommissioned officer.”

Retired Col. Ed Cramer, a member of the Fort Meade chapter of the MOAA, served as emcee.

More than 175 people attended the nearly three-hour event, which featured a somber ceremony dedicated to fallen comrades and paid tribute to the prisoners of war and service members who are still missing in action.

Baron 52, an Air Force choral group from the 94th Intelligence Squadron, performed patriotic music.

“I think [the event is] important,” said William B. Holmes, 86, a veteran of the Korean War and a former POW who is a recipient of three Purple Hearts. “It’s a good thing to be recognized for what we did and why we served.”

Retired Master Sgt. Stephanie Dale, a lifetime member of the Fort Meade chapter of TREA, said she wouldn’t miss the luncheon.

“It’s important to me to be here, to remember all those who paved the way for our freedom today,” she said.

Recognizing Sacrifice

The luncheon began with an invocation by Garrison Chaplain (Col.) Warren Kirby and the posting of the colors by the National Security Agency Color Guard.

ESC member Laura O’Leary led the audience in the “Pledge of Allegiance.” Baron 52 performed the national anthem.

Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard welcomed the audience of veterans, service members, spouses and family members. He also thanked the event’s organizers for their leadership in sponsoring the tribute.

Rickard said that today’s veterans need the support of their communities.

“As we recognize our veterans and their sacrifices today, we are mindful of our obligation to help veterans as they leave the service and try to find their traction in our community,” he said.

Veterans, Rickard said, must reply upon “the brotherhood and sisterhood of veterans” to help them find meaningful employment.

“Do what you can to help those veterans find their place,” he said.

Cramer noted there are 21.8 million veterans in the U.S. including 2 million women.

Naming each of the country’s wars and conflicts, starting with World War II, Cramer asked the veterans in the audience who served during those times to stand to be acknowledged.

Two WW II veterans — William M. Decatur, 97, who served as a corporal and was drafted before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and retired Lt. Col. Alfred A. Shehab, 97, whose platoon fought in the Battle of the Bulge — were among the oldest veterans to attend the event.

Strength of Families

After the acknowledgment, Forbes took the podium and in a 15-minute speech, shared his thoughts on the service of veterans, active-duty service members and their families. He began by reciting the lyrics to “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

“Freedom isn’t free; it’s been bought with a price — by the blood and the sweat of those who have come forth to serve before us,” he said.

Forbes also acknowledged Military Family Appreciation Month.

“We salute the families who are proudly a part of our nation’s unbroken chain of patriots,” he said. “Our military would not be the greatest in the world without the strength and support of the family.”

Forbes also thanked his wife, Patricia, and her support throughout their 22-year marriage.

To lighten the mood, Forbes asked the audience to join him in singing “Celebration,” the hit song by Kool and The Gang. The audience responded with song and laughter.

Forbes said Veterans Day is a time to celebrate the commitment of the veterans from all the nation’s wars and conflicts.

America’s veterans “all share the same blood, the same sacrifice,” he said.

“Whenever America or its interests have been threatened, the men and women of this great nation have risen to its defense. Whenever our freedoms have been under assault, we’ve responded with strength, purpose, resilience and resolve.”

Forbes also acknowledged the service members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past 15 years.

“They all have done so much for our nation’s cause,” he said.

Heroes of the Nation

Forbes spoke of the veterans who have come home from combat with lingering physical and psychological wounds.

“Veterans also understand combat and its impact in ways that others do not,” he said. “ … We all process and experience combat differently, but we must join one another in that experience. We must be there for one another. That shared knowledge is a bond that we live with not only on Veterans Day, but each and every day.”

Forbes said that for him, the meaning of the word “veteran” is best exemplified by its spelling: V – People of virtue; E – Empathy for one another; T- Team work; E- Encouraging each other; R – Being a role model; A- Having the country’s appreciation; and N – Never forgetting the sacrifice of those who came before.

Forbes shared that not too long ago, a Vietnam veteran encouraged him to use the Army’s resources for behavioral health assistance. Forbes said he has since been diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline bipolar disorder.

“I learned how to compartmentalize myself for the benefit of everyone else,” he said. “But I’m here to tell you that I’m coming out.”

Forbes encouraged other veterans to come forward and take advantage of services and resources that can help them lead a better life.

In closing, Forbes said the heroes of the nation are not NBA or NFL players or famous musicians.

“It’s you — the veteran,” he said.

After his speech, Forbes met with veterans and gave his personal thanks.

As the luncheon drew to a close, the sponsoring organizations gave a $1,250 donation to Michael Ybarra, manager of the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda. The ESC donated $1,000 to the total donation.

Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, 86, known as Fort Meade’s “Old Soldier,” said he attends the luncheon each year.

“It means that we’re not forgotten and that we’re very much appreciated,” said Moran, a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars.

“I thought [Forbes’] comments were very patriotic and inspirational. He speaks from the heart.”

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