Lt. Col. Damian Donohoe, who has been home since August after being deployed in Afghanistan, donned his military uniform one more time Friday before taking part as keynote speaker at Vermillion's Veterans Day program.
Standing before a packed audience in the W.H. Over Museum, he admitted that it was "different" to get out of the routine of wearing civilian clothes that morning.
Donohoe spoke at a gathering of citizens in the museum's Sletwold Hall. Maxine Johnson and other volunteers at the W.H. Over Museum made sure the room was adorned with many pieces of the museum's property to honor the nation's veterans. The room's décor included uniforms from WWI, artwork, and a large American flag that at one time flew above the USS South Dakota.
"I hope in some small way to pay tribute to the men and women, many who have selflessly served our nation within the military," Donohoe said. "Veterans Day is a time to honor and show appreciation to those who have served our great nation within the ranks of our armed forces.
"The service and the sacrifice that each servicemen provided gives them the title of veteran," he said. "A veteran is a great person, but often that greatness is hidden beneath the humble attitude that service to country was first a matter of pride and of subordination – not a boastful display of arrogance."
Donohoe said he's met many veterans during his lifetime who have served in the military with distinction, yet their humble demeanor never denotes the sacrifice they made.
"To each of the service people who gave their time and their talents to serve our country, I want to again say 'thank you,' because you willingly and humbly stepped up when your nation called," he said. "The fact that you served is a mark of distinction. While you quietly may go about your day-to-day lives, know that each of us lucky enough to be living in the United States owes you a debt of gratitude for keeping our nation free."
Veterans Day is a time for cities like Vermillion to celebrate the efforts of men and women who have served in the military and returned to make the community a vibrant place, he said.
"I also want to take a brief moment to remember today those who are serving across the globe," Donohoe said. "The commitment to serve still takes place every day, and the sacrifice of service members insures the rights of our citizens.
"To the men and women serving locally and abroad, I pray that God keep you safe and bring you home safe to your loved ones," he said.
Donohoe added that each generation of Americans suffers a loss of some of its heroes.
"We stand here today as free people, because somewhere, at some time, a member of our armed forces gave the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "I know I spend time each day thinking of the people I knew who gave that sacrifice. I worry for their loved ones. I sometimes ponder what might have been. But with each of those thoughts, I quickly realize that their sacrifice insured the liberty of our citizens.
"Their sacrifice liberated people of other nations who suffered tyranny," Donohoe said. "Their sacrifice will build opportunities for real and meaningful peace throughout the world. For those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and died serving their country, I humbly say, 'Job well done and God's speed.'"
One of the best ways American citizens can honor the nation's veterans is to look out for their needs after their military service has ended, he said.
"There's a large and growing population of veterans from recent conflicts who enter life after military with a host of questions," Donohoe said. "They have issues. But the unique thing is they have skills that are often unrecognized. Their questions are related to how they will be viewed by those who have never served or those who can't relate to their experiences.
"The issues for veterans run the gamut from employment, health care, family needs and housing, to education, mental health and substance abuse," he said.
Returning veterans possess great negotiation skills and mental agility. "And we all know they have the ability to follow directions, but they do act independently," Donohoe said. "I believe that we as a nation need to step up and work to solve their issues. And I mean we as a nation. Not politicians. Not folks who can't get it done."
He urged the audience to not hesitate to "seize the moment" and do more than simply offer thanks to a veteran.
"What I think we need to do is take the time to care," Donohoe said. "I want to thank the service members who came before me, and the many advocates of veterans' services. Your efforts have made the transition to civilian life easier for veterans, and we're better because of your work."
Participants in the morning's program included USD ROTC cadets, Fr. John Fischer of St. Agnes Parish, the local American Legion Auxiliary, Sue Paquette, who led the audience in the singing of patriotic songs, and the local VFW and American Legion Color Guard, which concluded the program with a rifle salute and the playing of "Taps."