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Rik Hawkins had a speech prepared for Saturday’s wreath laying ceremony at the newly opened Hardin County Veterans Tribute, but all words left him Friday morning when he learned a gunman had taken more than two dozen lives in a bloody rampage inside a Connecticut elementary school.
Rain fell steadily during the brief ceremony as a moment of reflection for veterans grew more somber once the small crowd paid their respects to the lives lost in Newtown, Conn.
The group held a moment of silence at the tribute before placing wreaths around the configuration honoring the five branches of the military and civil servants. Veterans organizations and Boy Scouts placed the wreaths in their designated places before rendering salutes.
The wreaths, adorned with red ribbons, were donated from the Wreaths Across America event held earlier in the day at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery-Central in Radcliff. Hawkins said he hopes local veteran organizations continue the ceremony at the tribute as an annual form of remembrance.
As the country tries to make sense of the tragic deaths on the East Coast, Hawkins said he wanted to include those mourning families because the children killed would not be home this Christmas to celebrate with their families and would never again be hugged by their parents.
Hawkins noted the children in the audience and said he was grateful youth were in attendance.
“This tribute is as much for you as it is for anyone,” Hawkins said.
Leon Chambers, a local veteran and pastor, said the gift of love offered by Jesus Christ is as relevant as ever the day after the school shooting that claimed nearly 30 lives.
He said the names of those young men and women who are forever etched at the tribute signify the willingness of heart needed to give one’s life for another. Chambers described the tribute as a gift of “gratitude to their service and sacrifice.”
“I suspect any of those names would be willing to put their lives on the line to stop the killing,” he said of the school shooting.
David and Patti Cowherd of Cecilia attended the tribute dedication ceremony last month and came back Saturday to pay their respects. Patti Cowherd said she was an “Army brat” growing up with a military father while her husband served in Vietnam and is affiliated with Vietnam Veterans of America No. 1051 in Elizabethtown.
“I think it’s excellent,” David said of the tribute. “It’s a great place to reflect on things about the past and sort things out.”
Patti Cowherd said the tribute is well deserved for local veterans.
“It just makes you feel special,” she said.
Radcliff resident Rodrick Thornton was busy during the dedication ceremony in November but came out Saturday to view the tribute and take some photographs. A U.S. Army veteran, Thornton was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division while in Vietnam.
“I think it’s something that’s overdue,” he said.
While the tribute was commissioned to honor veterans from all branches of the military and all wars, Thornton said the tribute resonates with the Vietnam veteran community because they were denied recognition for so long. He also said it gives attention to the less heralded branches, such as the U.S. Coast Guard.
The tribute has lasting power, Thornton said, because it makes veterans feel wanted and respected.
“It brings us out (here),” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.