The Great Bend Veteran’s Day Memorial Service is set for this morning at Veterans Memorial Park, near the Avenue of Flags on the northeast shore. Participants will begin gathering at 10:30 a.m. and the program will start at 11 a.m. The event is being coordinated by Great Bend Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 27.
For the veterans, some still bearing the scars of their service, it was a chance to rekindle their common bond and share their experiences with others.
For everyone else, the fifth-annual Great Bend KansasWorks Veterans Appreciation Day Thursday was a chance to say thanks and learn of the sacrifices made by the men and women who took up arms defending them.
“I helps us get the message out about what we did in our conflicts to the civilians,” said Vietnam vet Larry Mettscher of the event, adding he’s attended each year. “I enjoy it. It makes for a better understanding.”
Mettscher was one of 80-plus veterans who dropped by the KansasWorks office throughout the day. They represented various branches of them military and various armed actions.
Flags representing the difference services hung from the ceiling. Mannequins dressed in different military period uniforms stood at attention. Artifacts, insignias and other military equipment were laid out on tables. Restored military vehicles sat parked outside where American flags whipped in the breeze.
Veterans represented Pearl Harbor, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
“It’s good to have the camaraderie,” said Vietnam vet Calvin Nobles. “It gives us a chance to recall yesteryear. It’s a great thing.”
This marked Nobles first Appreciation Day. He’s shied away in the past “because of too many bad memories.” He recalled mistreatment when he returned from the jungles of Southeast Asia and being called a “baby killer.”
“That’s kind of behind us now,” he said. He was glad he came.
“Veterans are a family,” said Joe Farish, a Vietnam-era vet. All service personnel share common experiences, regardless of where and when they served.
This was obvious as the vets, many wearing their medals, sat around and swapped stories. They also shared those tales with anyone who showed an interest.
Non-veterans mingled with veterans, shook their hands, offered hugs and provided an attentive ear.
Among the civilians at the KansasWorks office Thursday morning were third graders from Jefferson Elementary School in Great Bend, students of Jamie Reed and Debbie Daniel. They wondered, wide-eyed as they asked questions of the vets and studied the displays.
“We had a great turn-out,” said Ed Scott, KansasWorks veterans employment representative and a 12-year Air Force veteran. There were 84 veterans who took part.
“This recognizes vets for Veteran’s Day,” Scott said. “We want to thank them for their service.”
This was Scott’s first effort at coordinating the annual event, which takes place the day before Veteran’s Day. The average vet attendance is 65 and “we want to do a little better each year.”
Scott’s job is to help vets in 63 western Kansas counties find jobs. The KansasWorks office, which falls under the Kansas Department of Commerce but gets funding from the United States Department of Labor, also has specialists who help them with other employment-related programs.
Scott said there are 850,000 unemployed veterans in America. “They have skills and want to work.”
He also said local employers are very supportive of his efforts to place vets.