Courtesy Idaho State Journal, Nov 6, 2015, By Michael H. O’Donnell
Many of the men and women who stood up to be recognized as the anthem for their branch of service was being played by the Idaho State Civic Symphony Brass Quintet had aging bodies and graying hair, but the pride in their eyes shone brightly at the “Salute to Idaho Veterans” event Friday.
Photo: Idaho State Journal – Michael H. O’Donnell
Members of the Pocatello Veterans Honor Guard raise the American Flag during opening ceremonies at the fifth annual Farm Bureau “Salute to Idaho Veterans” event.
It was the fifth year in a row that the Idaho Farm Bureau hosted the ceremony and luncheon to give tribute to those who serve our country.
Idaho Farm Bureau vice president and CEO Paul Roberts welcomed the veterans to the event and thanked them for “serving a cause greater than themselves.”
The oldest veteran taking in the festivities was 99-year-old Boyd Whitworth, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He is now a resident of the Pocatello Veterans Home.
The keynote speaker for Friday’s event was Maj. Brady Johnson of the Idaho Army National Guard and a two-tour veteran of the war in Iraq. After enlisting in the Idaho National Guard in 1992, Johnson served with Battery A 1-148th Field Artillery Regiment in Iraq in 2004-05. He was part of the command for fire support operations near Kirkurk, Iraq. Johnson returned to Iraq in 2010 and took command of that artillery battery.
The recipient of a Bronze Star, Johnson reminded the audience that about 1 percent of this country’s population currently serves in the U.S. military. The highest level of participation came in World War II when 10 percent of Americans were in the service.
“The time we served in the armed forces has left an indelible mark on us,” Major Johnson said. “We are united by a code.”
Johnson shared a slideshow of his unit while it served in Iraq, and photos like soldiers interacting with camels brought laughter from the audience.
But Johnson’s message was punctuated by the serious business of serving a country and protecting democracy.
“We see ourselves as sheep dogs protecting the flock from the wolves,” Johnson said.
The National Guard major also said the experiences forge a kinship between veterans that can never be broken and no one should discount soldiers, sailors and airmen who made a decision to make a sacrifice for their country.
“It’s hard to explain to you what the sound of an incoming rocket sounds like,” Johnson said. “It’s difficult to explain what it feels like to be in a 130-degree sandstorm.”
Johnson said only soldiers really understand what it is like to put their lives on the line in combat and sacrifice time with family.
During his time in Iraq, Johnson received word that his 3-year-old son had cancer, but he was helpless to do anything for the boy because he was deployed. Yet, the soldier said he wouldn’t change his sacrifice for this nation.
“I am grateful for my opportunity to serve,” Johnson said.
Following Johnson’s speech, Farm Bureau executive Roberts took a moment to swallow hard before continuing with the program.
“Brady is my nephew, and I want you to know how proud I am,” Roberts said.
During the event, two Idaho students received awards and cash prizes for submitting essays on “What my family member’s military service means to me.”
In the seventh through ninth grade competition, the winner was Ashley Jacobsen of Kuna. Her grandfather died before she knew him, but he served in the U.S. Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“One day, I will get to meet him and ask him about all the stories that I was told,” Jacobsen wrote. “He was a great person for putting his life on the line. He was a great person because he sacrificed for much.”
The winner for 10th through 12th grade was high school senior Kellie Rich of Sagle.
Rich also paid tribute to her grandfather and his time in the U.S. Army as well as all American veterans.
“They are tough because of the training they have done, the things they have seen, and the situations they have survived,” Rich wrote. “They don’t complain much and neither does my grandpa.”
All the veterans attending Friday’s event received a commemorative coin with a bald eagle soaring over the Idaho landscape.