Some were more than 70 years old as they proudly saluted the flag as it whipped in the wind.
Their children stood proudly beside them on the grounds at A.C. Jones High’s Veterans Memorial Stadium.
This was their day — Veterans Day.
John Schneider, a veteran himself, stood in front of the crowd poised to answer the question: What is a veteran?
Schneider looked down at his notes and read from a essay by Dan Valentine.
“He is a man who looks the world in the eye. He is a man who feels a little extra heart tug when the flag goes by.
“He is a man who steps a little faster when he feels the beat of a military band...
“He always walks with a distinctive pride that isn’t given to lesser men....
“He is democracy with a good conduct medal lost in the darkness of a keepsake box.
“He is freedom with a purple heart...
“He is America’s most honored citizen. He is a veteran.”
Schneider was the guest speaker at Monday’s Veterans Day ceremony sponsored by the Beeville Garden Club.
His military resume, single-spaced, fills a page and spans from his joining the Navy as a recruit in 1965 until his retirement — twice.
Schneider spent four years in the Navy, then joined the Marine Corps.
In 40 years of service, he has seen action in Vietnam, Panama, Chile and the Middle East and has served domestically at Waco, Omaha, Hawaii and Corpus Christi.
The ceremony, and the day it honored, paid tribute not just to the military men who lost their lives, but to all who served.
“Veterans Day is not be confused with Memorial Day,” Schneider said. “Memorial Day is set aside for those who died for their country or died as a result of injuries they received during battle.
“Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans, living or dead, but also gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably in war or peacetime.”
Schneider paused again.
He turned his head to the crowd, his eyes looking out at the audience.
Who is a veteran? he asked rhetorically.
“They were men and women who returned home and quietly assimilate back into society,” he answered. “They are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, friends and next-door neighbors.
“Some live out their lives without anyone knowing who they are or what they did during wartime.
“Many return with serious mental or physical injuries and remain handicapped for life.
“All of them return knowing they fulfilled their responsibility to defend their country when their country needed them.”
Schneider said that what all of them have in common is their dedication to protecting freedom.
“They took an oath to defend their country and the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic,” he said.
That oath they took would forever change their life.
“They shed their selfish individualism which they replaced with a team spirit making them part of something bigger than themselves,” he said.
“It matters not where or when a veteran was stationed or the degree of combat they experienced.
“All are veterans when they serve their country in one of the five armed forces.”
Schneider said that when he was a boy, he would see crowds of people coming out to support their veterans.
In contrast to this memory, only about 50 or so came out Monday for the hour-long ceremony, leaving many of the chairs empty.
“Over 90 percent of the men who were mentally and physically qualified went into the military during World War II,” he said.
“The people back home made sacrifices in support of the war effort.
“They rationed fuel, food and tires and many necessities of life and comforts. It was this backdrop that inspired me to join the service.
“All Americans have a responsibility to support their country and the veterans who make sacrifices to protect them.”
He called on everyone to do his or her part.
“I think it is important for Americans to keep abreast of current events by reading newspapers, listening to the news on TV and radio, and then voting informed and responsibly and not by emotions alone,” Schneider said.
To those wanting to support these men and women keeping America free, Schneider offered his suggestions.
“Pray for our armed forces in harm’s way. Send a care package and mail to our armed forces, particularly the ones away from homes.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.