Yorktown honors veterans at Vietnam Memorial
As Ray F. Semper strolled past 12 white crosses at the Yorktown Vietnam Memorial - each cross marking a fallen DeWitt County Vietnam War soldier - he paused to remember.
Staring at the crosses, memories of the war quickly triggered tears in Semper's eyes.
"Yeah, I knew them," said Semper, 65, clenching his left hand in a fist and placing it over his mouth to push back his tears.
Semper, a Navy Vietnam veteran who retired in 1968 as a petty officer third-class, glided his fingers across each of the crosses' commemorative plaques as he walked by and reflected on the many American soldiers who never came home from war.
"This is one of the reasons why I have so much respect for the guys who serve today because they all volunteer," said Semper, a native of Yorktown. "A lot of (the Vietnam soldiers) were pulled in by the draft."
On Sunday, about 40 area residents gathered at the Yorktown Vietnam Memorial to celebrate the Veterans Day holiday and honor American military men and women who've fought and died to protect national freedoms.
Taps and a special service was delivered by Yorktown First Presbyterian Church pastor, the Rev. Lane Johnson.
"We owe the veterans a tremendous amount of respect, honor and thanks. We owe them so much and we don't think about enough these days," said Jill Haun Potyka, of Yorktown, who attended Sunday's service to honor her father, an Army Korean War veteran. "They sacrifice so much and when they come back, they're still sacrificing because they never come back the same."
Semper, who is now retired and volunteers with the DeWitt County Vietnam Veterans of America Yorktown Chapter 1029, said Veterans Day is a chance to thank and honor those who served, and those who died while serving.
"I've lost friends and I know a lot of people who've lost loved ones," he said. "But services like this remind me that the American people are proud that there's men out there doing what they need to do to keep our freedom going. When you're in a place like Vietnam, you realize there's people in other countries who don't have the freedoms we do."
Semper said he hopes others will reflect on the service and sacrifice of military men and women this weekend. He also hopes the American youth will remember how important it is to defend the freedoms of future generations.
"I hope they'll take a step back in life and look around at what they have and appreciate it," he said. "Without realizing, it could all be gone in a heartbeat."