Colonel Retired Tony Verchio with the South Dakota Army National Guard spoke at the Veteran’s Day Luncheon at the Hill City Senior Center on Nov. 10.
Verchio has held numerous staff positions at the battalion, regimental, group and state headquarters levels. He held multiple commands at the company and battalion level. Verchio retired as the Director of Intelligence for the Joint Staff of the South Dakota National Guard.
Before he spoke there was a lunch served to many area veterans. It was a full room and the word got out to many veterans.
Verchio spoke about how we can all be responsible for protecting America’s liberty and the price for freedom.
He said the defense of freedom is not just for those in the military.
“It is a shared duty and responsibility,” Verchio said.
Americans can protect their freedom by maintaining here in America. Freedom can be preserved by putting it into action.
People should vote, volunteer, speak out against injustices and ensure everyone benefits from the freedom in the United States.
Verchio said it’s impossible to put a price on freedom and the security veterans have given the United States.
According to Verchio, fewer than 10 percent or about 22 million Americans can claim the title of veteran.
Nearly 39,400 veterans are homeless today. South Dakota itself has around 320 homeless veterans. Eleven to 20 percent of all veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 2016, around 20 veterans a day committed suicide.
Abraham Lincoln eloquently stated in his second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865 that America should “care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”
These are the words that became the motto of the Veteran’s Administration in 1959.
“To honor our veterans we must keep this promise and others that were made to them,” Verchio said.
Care for those who were injured in service to the United States and honor those who die.
As a nation, he said, we have not lived up to fulfilling those promises.
“We have veterans who have died while waiting for care from the Veteran’s Administration hospitals that were established to care for them,” Verchio said.
For veterans, America and its people are important enough to endure long separation of families, miss the births of their children, freeze in subzero temperatures, bake in deserts, lose limbs. Far too often, veterans lose their lives, Verchio said.
Verchio told those gathered to never forget about the 1.3 million soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and coast guard men deployed around the globe in places like Syria and Iraq.
“Every generation from the Revolutionary War to today brave Americans have served honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States,” Verchio said.
Veterans are just ordinary people who heard the call of duty and responded.
“They selflessly left their families, their homes and their lives,” Verchio said.
He said it wasn’t for the fame or honor bestowed upon them but to protect America and its citizens way of life.
Verchio said military service brings rewards like a sense of pride serving a cause greater than self interests and knowing the nation’s cause is the hope of the world. Every man and woman who wears America’s uniform is part of a long, unbroken line of achievement and honor, Verchio said.
“No military power in history has done more good, shown more courage, liberated more people or upheld higher standards of decency and valor than the Armed Forces of the United States of America,” Verchio said.
Many veterans were also in attendance of the Veteran’s Day program on Nov. 9 which was in the Hill City High School Gin’s Gym. There were words of appreciation, music and a guest speaker.
The guest speaker was Major Rich Morrison with the Ellsworth Air Force Base. He has been flying a B-1 bomber since 2003.
He was asked to speak about what Veterans Day means to him.
“That was tough for me at first. I never really considered myself a veteran,” Morrison said.
He has been with the U.S. Air Force for 20 years but considered veterans those who came before him. Those that faced more adversity than he did.
He talked about the pilots who flied B-17’s out of England during a frigid winter in 1943 and guys that held their ground during the Tet Offensive in 1968.
“It is hard to fathom going through something like that,” Morrison said.
One of the commonalities that people have when joining the service is even though there are some lofty goals when they are signing up when things happen they will fight for those next them.
“We’re trying to get through it together. We’re trying to get through it as a group,” Morrison said.
He said veterans usually don’t sign up for the glory or the spotlight or because of Veterans Day.
Morrison said that everybody that has served or is serving is aware of their training and regardless of why they signed up has made the choice they are offering their body for their country.
“Thank everybody that has served and that has made that statement,” Morrison said.
Even if people don’t say thanks, Morrison told the crowd they should make a mental note of what the veterans have done.