10th annual Veterans Appreciation Banquet draws crowd

Robert Tiffany & Judy Robinson (left) and Lenna & Clayton Norton (right) stand on each side of Colonel James P. Fleming following the ceremony at Saturday night's banquet.
Tabitha Fleming
Staff Writer

“I've probably been to over 200 of these banquets,” said Colonel James P. Fleming, as he addressed the crowd at the 10th Annual Hutchinson County Veterans Appreciation Banquet, “but I have never been as moved...” Col. Fleming, now retired from the United States Airforce received a Medal of Honor for his bravery in Vietnam, and was the keynote speaker at Saturday's Veteran's Appreciation Banquet. Speaking about his experiences since receiving the medal, the colonel made it a point in his closing remarks to thank the people of the Texas panhandle, for their dedication to veterans.
After the Elks Honor Guard presented their colors, the audience was at full attention for the performance of Dan Holcomb, well-known for his strong and unwavering singing voice, as he performed an especially moving rendition of the Nation Anthem. As the last notes of The Star Spangled Banner faded into silence, Clayton Norton, Chairman of the banquet committee and master of ceremonies for the Elks took the stage to recognize each of the five branches of military service.
Each branch of service was asked to stand as a brief history was read while boy scouts from the local Troop 1581 passed out tokens specially made for the banquet as a commemorative keepsake. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard were each recognized with the appropriate pomp and circumstance. Blue Star Mothers, who've had children that served, sacrifice much, but a Gold Star Mother has suffered the tragic loss of her child during the violence of war. A clearly moved audience stood as one local mother of a fallen hero received her token.
Colonel Fleming's remarks about the quality of the ceremony were meant for all the various elements, but it was the POW/MIA Ceremony that gave him pause and he took a special moment to thank Charlie Morris and Johnny Garrard of the Vietnam Veterans of America. The POW/MIA Ceremony was something to be remembered as empty tables were set to represent the missing soldiers and prisoners absent from the festivities. The crowd was completely silent as Charlie Morris solemnly said, “The glasses are inverted... They can not toast with us this evening. Their chairs are empty... They are not with us this evening. They are missing. Remember all of you who served with them and call them comrades, who depended on their might and relied upon them, for surely they have not forgotten us. God bless our POW and MIA's...God Bless all of you here tonight... and God bless the United States of America.”
The Colonel related the story of his daring helicopter rescue along a riverbank in Vietnam, but it was the attitude with which he spoke of his experiences that carried throughout the crowd. Like the roughnecks of West Texas who can calmly relate the details of a near catastrophic accident, the Colonel took time to give the details of what mattered most that day, not the ammunition, or the machinery, which he spoke of only briefly, but of the men that he served next to, the men that were fighting for freedom, and the American way of life.
According to the Colonel, Americans aren't like other military forces. When American troops were being extracted, each man inside would immediately turn around and reach his hand out to help the man behind him. It's that spirit of brotherhood, that drive to help each other, that makes this nation what it is, the United States of America. As the veterans banquet concluded, there was little doubt that here in the Texas panhandle, that same spirit runs high.