|Community opportunities to observe Veterans Day abound in the area this coming weekend. Formerly known in the United States as Armistice Day, the holiday was renamed in 1954, to acknowledge that all veterans are honored on this day, November 11, for their military service to the country. The date marks the anniversary of the end of World War I in 1918, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when hostilities were formally ended.
On this 99th anniversary, the community begins its observance of Veterans Day with a Saturday breakfast open to all veterans and their families at the Wet Mountain Valley Saddle Club on County Road 241. The free, hearty country breakfast is sponsored by American Legion Post 170 Ladies Auxillary, and will be served from 7 to 10 a.m.
That evening, the annual Veterans Day Banquet convenes at 6 p.m. in Tony’s Mountain Pizza, Silver Cliff. An extraordinary and outstanding speaker is featured this year. Shilo Harris, US Army Staff Sgt (Ret), son of a Vietnam veteran, enlisted as a Calvary Scout shortly after 9/11. On his second deployment with the 10th Mountain Division, he was assigned to service near southern Baghdad during the war in Iraq. On February 19, 2007, Harris’ life was changed forever when his vehicle was struck by an IED, killing three of his fellow soldiers and injuring the driver. He survived, but with third degree burns on 35 percent of his body; he lost his ears, the tip of his nose and three fingers, and sustained fractures of his left collarbone and C-7 vertebrae.
Harris was in a medically induced coma for 48 days, and spent nearly three years recovering in San Antonio’s Brooklyn Medical Center’s burn unit. His recovery involved more than 75 surgeries, and participation in new regenerative stem-cell research to regrow his fingers; he also later received prosthetic ears, and struggled with post-traumatic stress. Medically retired from the military in 2010, he says of his time in the service and his injuries, “Everything in life is a gift. Sometimes it may not be the gift you want but you realize that your challenges are a new beginning.”
That new beginning for him involved his authoring “Steel Will: My Journey through Hell to Become the Man I was Meant to Be,” and becoming a motivational speaker across the country. His mission now includes educating the nation in the life experience of wounded service members, empowering Americans in promoting and protecting wounded and retired veterans, and inspiring positive life changes in all who are dealing with their own adversities.
It would not have been possible to bring this gifted, sharing veteran to Custer County without the help of the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes. Charles Bogle, member of the sponsoring American Legion Post 170, is one of two Colorado representatives in this national service group, and was quietly instrumental in scheduling Shilo Harris, who will be speaking elsewhere earlier on Veterans Day, into Custer County.
As of press time, the event may be sold out, but inquiries may be addressed to Post 170’s Bob Dreher at 783-2462 or 371-4026. Tim Swartz, Custer County Veteran Services Officer, notes that the occasion of Harris’ being here “is a great opportunity. I have ‘Steel Will’ at home, and look forward to reading it.”
In addition to Shilo Harris’ presence and presentation, the Coalition’s local 22 Standing Campaign is ending its poignant consciousness raising program at the banquet. This daily awareness activity has been dedicated to the 22 veterans across the country that daily take their own lives as a result of wounds physical or mental sustained in war. Juan Perez, active in the Coalition, will be attending the banquet from Colorado Springs. He somberly says, “22 a day is 22 too many. Veterans and supporters across the country are going to be standing to give a voice to those who feel they no longer have theirs.”
He and those who have been following him on Facebook have been standing in silent solidarity for our veterans before the flag they fought to defend for 2 minutes and 22 seconds across the 22 days from October 21st to Veterans Day.
On that 22nd day, Perez and those in attendance at the Veterans Day Banquet will stand in this recognition at Tony’s. The program has also set $22,000 as its fundraising goal. Go to Perez’ Facebook page to learn more, then visit https://app.mobilecause.com/ f/1kcu/n and donate $22 dollars. Perez notes “The Tomb [of the Unknown Soldier] has not been unguarded for a single minute since 1937. The sentinels there stand in silence for those whose names they will never know. Stand for 2 minutes and 22 seconds for our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, neighbors and work colleagues who struggle in their own silence to make it through the day. As they honor and guard our heroic dead, let us honor and guard our heroes struggling to live.”
Veterans Day is filled with activities, as grateful hearts are filled throughout the community with recognition and remembrance of the indebtedness for freedoms owed to our veterans.
– W.A. Ewing