State Fair Military Appreciation Day honors Missouri service members

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Traci Payne
  • 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Missouri service members and their families were honored with free admission and a special recognition ceremony at Military Appreciation Day at the Missouri State Fair here Aug. 16.

The sixth-annual ceremony was an outstanding tribute to all Veterans, especially highlighting those from the World War II era, with participation by Missouri National Guard and active duty service members stationed across the state, said Maj. Gen. Steve Danner, the Adjutant General of Missouri. 

"I'm proud of so many of my fellow Guardsmen and our friends from Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base," Danner said. "Both facilities are home to capabilities vital to our national defense and for decades, each has a critical role in the overseas contingency operations. The same is true for them as is true for the Guard - missions and equipment change with time, but the one constant we can always count on is the fighting spirit and selfless service of the Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Coast Guardsman and Marine."

The event opened with music by the Missouri Army National Guard's 135th Army Band from Springfield, and the posting of the colors by the Missouri National Guard Funeral Honors Color Guard.

Brig. Gen. James Raymer, the U.S. Army Engineer School commandant at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, recognized the large role that the state has played in the defense of our nation.

"Missouri's own sons and daughters have gone into harm's way, some of which have never come home," Raymer said.  "We honor their sacrifice, mourn their loss and celebrate their lives."

Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets IV, 509th Bomb Wing commander and grandson of then-Col. Paul Tibbets Jr., who piloted the Enola Gay as it dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in World War II, also attended the ceremony.  In his remarks, he expressed thanks to the community for the tremendous support that nearby Whiteman Air Force Base receives throughout the year.

"I charge you with upholding the legacy of the greatest generation, those men and women in your communities that had so little yet gave so much in support of our military," Tibbets said.  "I know my grandfather and the members in his command were eternally grateful for that support and we must ensure it continues, as the success of our nation depends on it."

Danner, Missouri National Guard adjutant general, said that he was honored to be at the "best state fair in the country."  

Danner spoke about the Missouri National Guard's Youth Challenge program, which helps disadvantaged youth gain a high school diploma, and a fresh start.  Danner said that it is rare that the military has a chance to give back to a community to whom it owes such a debt, but that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has made it possible with this program.

"Anyone who has ever worked on a farm knows if you plant a seed, walk away and hope really hard, all you've done is buried that seed," Danner said.  "On the other hand, if you nurture your seeds, invest energy into helping them grow and make some hard sacrifices, you'll have a crop that can feed your family and secure your future."

Dale Mitchell, a World War II Veteran and former prisoner of war, received a standing ovation when he took the stage to address the arena as the ceremony's keynote speaker.  The crowd, including more than 30 of Mitchell's family members, listened to the story of how a Missouri farm boy found himself as a crewmember aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress and was ultimately shot down over Vienna, Austria. 

Mitchell concluded his story by telling the crowd that he does not consider himself a hero, because he got to come home.  He got to marry his high school sweetheart and take advantage of all the opportunities that this great nation affords, he said.

"The boys that paid the supreme sacrifice - those are the heroes," Mitchell said.  "I gave two and a half years of my life for my country, that's all I did."

The ceremony concluded with a salute to Mitchell and to all the military members and families in attendance from more than 175 members of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle club.