Honoring those who served

Veterans Day may be in the rearview mirror, but the contributions of those in our midst who risked their lives for our freedoms will not be forgotten.

Congressman Michael C. Burgess publicly recognized five local veterans at the annual “Salute Our Veterans” Luncheon hosted by the Highland Village Business Association on Nov. 8 at Celebrations Event Center in Highland Village.

Highland Village Mayor Pat Davis summed up the essence of the “Salute Our Veterans” Luncheon Event, when he said, “Our ceremony which is in its 10th year of its existence is to pay tribute to the veterans who have sacrificed so much so that we may enjoy the freedoms found in our country.”

Mayor Davis added, “And we’re honored in Highland Village to have so many veterans in our city and surrounding cities that we can pay tribute.  It is an opportunity for the community to thank our veterans.  And let’s not forget the families of those who serve; they also sacrifice much.”

Congressman Burgess presented the 2012 Congressional Veteran Commendations to Robert Baird (Lieutenant Colonel-U.S. Army) of Lantana who served in Vietnam, Victor Durrance (Sergeant-U.S. Army Air Force) of Gainesville who served in World War II, Andrew Fortunato (Lieutenant Colonel-U.S. Marine Corps) of Keller who served in the Gulf War, the Balkans, and the War on Terror, Joe Gray (Colonel-U.S. Army) of North Richland Hills who served in Vietnam, and Mugg Pawless (Private First Class-U.S. Army) of Gainesville who served in World War II.

Throughout each of their stories, the men said that their goal was to preserve our freedoms as a nation.

Congressman Burgess remarked to the approximate 300 attendees at the event, “While we have singled out these veterans for recognition, I want to extend my deepest appreciation to all veterans for your service to The United States of America.  On behalf of the citizens of the 26th District and a grateful nation, we are forever in your debt.”

In addition to those recognized with this year’s Congressional Veteran Commendations, Dr. Burgess also recognized U.S. Army Sergeant Steven B. Davidson from Justin as the 2012 Army Times Soldier of The Year.

The Army Times newspaper selected Sergeant Davidson for service while he was deployed as well as community involvement at home- so it is quite an all inclusive honor.

“It’s an incredible honor to be here.  When my family told me that Highland Village had invited me to attend this event, I was very humbled. And then when I arrived here to see the kind of magnitude of the event with all the veterans there, it was really moving,” said Sergeant Davidson.

At the entrance to the event, patriotic artwork honoring the veterans by eight Marcus High School students was displayed. 

“I think it’s important to honor and thank our veterans because they have sacrificed so much for us,” said Haley Breedlove, a senior at Marcus.  “They give their time, strength, and lives to serve our country so that we can stay safe and have the freedoms we have today.”

She continued, “I am able to pursue my dreams of becoming an occupational therapist due to their bravery.  Because of that, I was inspired to use this quote that I wrote on my artwork, “One Nation under God, Home of the Free, Because of the Brave.”

Before the commendations were presented, Highland Village Chaplain Jack Milligan did the invocation in full military uniform.

The Marcus High School 881st Air Force Junior ROTC opened the ceremony carrying the American Flag Posting Colors.  After which, Karen Chraska led the crowd in singing the National Anthem.

The most heart wrenching and tearful part of the presentation was when Mayor Pat Davis honored those local soldiers who gave their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting in the Global War on Terrorism. 

Mayor Davis concluded by saying, “Nearly 6,000 Americans have lost their lives in the fight to protect our nation from terrorism; twenty of those from Denton County.  We have with us families of those brave men.”

Those local fallen heroes were Army SPC. Nathaniel A Aguirre, Army SGT. Carlos A. Benitez, Army SGT. Michael Boatright, Army 2nd LT. Peter H. Burks, Army CPL. Peter J. Courcy, Marine SGT. Jarod Cravens, Army 2nd  LT. Johnny K. Craver, Army SPC. Ernest W. Dallas, Jr., Marine SGT. Joshua Lee Franks, Army SPC. Jonathan Gilbert, Lance CPL. Albert Haddad, Jr., Army LT. Col. Daniel E. Holland, Army PVT. Aaron M. Hudson, Marine Lance CPL. Brandon T. Lara, Marine Lance CPL. Jacob R. Lugo, Army PFC. Ryan M. McCauley, Army SFC. Justin Monschke,   Army SPC. Philip C.S. Schiller, Army LT. Robert Welch III, and Army Maj. Mathew W. Worrell.

The presentation culminated, when Laurie Mullens, Highland Village Public Affairs Manager, conducted a “Veteran Salute,” where the majority of the veterans in the audience stood up one at a time, introduced themselves and told a few words of their military experience.  What resulted was a great camaraderie among the veterans and they bonded in the serious purpose of the event.

To conclude after all is said and done, as our Constitution states, we are a nation with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and our military and veterans with their courage and patriotic efforts have enabled us to maintain our freedoms and independence.

Pictured above (L-R): Rep. Michael C. Burgess, Robert Baird, Victor Durrance, Andrew Fortunato, Joe Gray, Mugg Pawless

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