11th hour of 11/11, 99 years later
Was it a show of support? A goodwill gesture? A bit of serendipity? Whatever the case, six Black Hawk helicopters flew overhead as the Comanche County Veterans Council was gearing up for its annual Veterans Day observance.
Member organizations met up at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 99 years after the signing of the armistice that brought World War I to a close. Council Chairman Tor Littau said that when he was in Gallipoli, Turkey, about five years ago the people there made a very big deal of Armistice Day.
"Across the world, it's a big deal, and it's great that we have the opportunity to celebrate Veterans Day," Littau said.
The featured speaker was Staff Sgt. Billy Henry, who is currently assigned to the headquarters of the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill. Born in Charleston, S.C., to Sheila and the late Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Billy Henry, he earned his Eagle Scout credentials. He is an accomplished trumpeter, salsa dance instructor and sign language interpreter. He joined the Army in 2003 as a mortuary affairs specialist. He served as non-commissioned officer in charge of mortuary affairs for his brigade on two deployments to Iraq.
While serving as Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) president at Fort Lee, Va., his BOSS program competed for and won the Army's top program award in the medium installation category. His next deployment was to Afghanistan, where he served as the mortuary where he served as the mortuary affairs liaison officer for the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade.
While stationed in Hawaii in 2016 Henry was inducted into Kappa Lambda Chi Military Fraternity Inc. and is now with the Oklahoma City Detachment.
"I am the product of a military family and second-generation military," Henry said. "One thing is very clear to me: Every person that is being honored today around the world has met a particular goal. They heard the bells tolling for their defining moment."
He gave the example of the attack that occurred on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001.
"It is easy to say that one defining moment of that day was when people were coming from everywhere to help find survivors. During that particular incident, there was no separation of class, color, creed or sex. It was a defining moment for us as a nation, because in that moment, we were all gray. All we wanted to do was to survive, and to help our fellow man and woman," Henry said.
Another defining moment was on Dec. 8, 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his war declaration speech told a joint session of Congress that Dec. 7 was "a date which will live in infamy."
"For me, for my generation, a defining moment was in November 2008, when Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected as President of the United States. My question to everyone is, what is your defining moment?"
Henry said his personal defining moment was the day in January 2003 when he started his journey of serving his country as a U.S. Army soldier. He joined with the intent of getting a specialized education on handling the traumatic death situation as a mortuary affairs individual.
"What I did not know was that I was going to get so much more than just that. There were three founding principles that every mortuary affairs person needed to know: dignity, honor and respect. And those three things took on a whole new meaning for me throughout my military tenure."
Henry said dignity is something each person is owed, regardless of who they are or what side of the fight they're on, even in death, because they have given their last measure for what they believe. The speaker said that before the ceremony he told a Vietnam veteran that he did not get the dignity that he deserved.
"It's sad that it happened, and I have to say from the bottom of my heart, from my generation, thank you for your service, because the nation could not see what you had to sacrifice. But we see now, and we will not let your sacrifice go unheard," Henry said.
Honor is another principle accorded to all, even to one who was your enemy in life.
"Regardless of what side of the conflicts you are on, when you put on the mantle of the uniform and you go out to represent your country, you are worthy of honor from every single person. After you take off that uniform, you are still worthy of the honor, because you answered the call," said Henry.