'Real heroes don't wear capes'
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
During what was perhaps the best attended Bandera Honors Veterans event, no one wore a cape, but there certainly were a lot of heroes on the Bandera County Courthouse lawn Saturday, Nov. 9.
The weather was almost - but not quite - cool; the bagpipes piped; and the drummers drummed; and, not coincidentally, the next day, the United States Marine Corps would celebrate its 238th birthday.
During his opening remarks, retired USMC Col. Marshall Considine, who had served for 26 years, spoke about his first days in Bandera. "As I walked down Main Street and noticed all the military stickers on the backs of pickup trucks, I knew I was in the right place," he said.
He later learned that 15 percent of the county's population had served in the military. "And, today we show our appreciation for all they have done for this country," he said.
"The town of Bandera can be proud of its contributions to the armed services, from World War II veteran, Stanley Johnson, who is 98 years young, to Kaia Shea Bakken, 18, who graduated from Boot Camp at Great Lakes Naval Air Station yesterday morning," Considine continued.
Paying tribute to those who served in conflicts past and present, he listed the wars this country had been involved in. Considine asked members of the armed services to raise their hands if they had served in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. "The reason we have the greatest military in the world is because the veterans of each these wars pass on their knowledge and experience to the next," Considine said. "From World War II to Afghanistan, the torch continues to be passed."
Keynote speaker retired Brigadier General James Bisson, a resident of Harper, began his Army career in 1967 when Uncle Sam sent him a letter in the mail that began: "Greetings." After serving with the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam from July 1967 to July 1968, Bisson joined the Army National Guard where he was commissioned a second lieutenant.
For the next 35 years, he commanded from the platoon through the brigade level, capping his career as assistant division commander for the 36th Infantry Division. A graduate of the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Bisson's numerous awards include the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit.
Beginning his remarks, he asked rhetorically, "Who is a hero?" Bisson concluded that a hero is not a baseball player who hits a winning home run in the World Series, not the winner of a high school debate tournament, not a high school quarterback who throws the winning touchdown pass and not a country music star who plays a mean guitar.
"Heroes are people who are willing to give their life for another, who are willing to defend ideals and principles. Those who willingly defend a way of life not for themselves, but for others and future generations," Bisson said. "Heroes walk among us. They are everyday folks - with one exception. They are American veterans."
Lauding those in Bandera County who served in World War II, he noted that of the 18 million called up, less than 2 million are still alive today. "They went to war to stop tyranny and, after winning that war, came home and made America the greatest nation in the world," Bisson said. "Truly America's 'Greatest Generation,' they are forever due a debt of gratitude from the rest of us."
He described Korea as "the forgotten war" and the half million who served in that conflict the "forgotten veterans." However, the US military, Bisson pointed out, still serves in Korea to preserve freedom in that part of the world.
Because of the treatment received after their service in Vietnam, those veterans became the "conscience of America," Bisson said. "America would never again treat her military in that fashion. The Vietnam veterans are the reason our current military forces are so well respected and appreciated," he observed.
The current all-volunteer military forces have served in Grenada, Panama, the first Gulf War, the Global War on Terrorism and Iraq and they are still serving in Afghanistan. "They make up the greatest military force that I have been association with in my life. They are true patriots," Bisson said.
Emphasizing that service men and women go where their county sends them - even knowing they may not return - Bissson related the story of Washington DC National Guard Lt. Heather "Lucky" Penney, who, on Sept. 11, 2001, was ordered to fly air cover over the nation's Capitol and take down hostile aircraft - or possibly United Flight 93.
The caveat was that Penney had no armament on her F-16 - no live ammunition or missiles because her jet was still equipped with dummy bullets from a training mission.
"She knew to carry out her mission she would have to ram another plane. She knew she had been sent on a suicide mission but she followed orders nonetheless," Bisson said, adding, "Real heroes don't wear capes. They wear dog tags."
Pictured: This impressive buckle, created by Gist and presented to James McGroarty for his tireless work on behalf of local veterans, included an inlay of the State of Texas and the American Legion logo.
Bandera Honors Veterans Committee Chairman Marshall Considine, a retired colonel in the US Marine Corps, presented James McGroarty, owner of the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, with a commemorative buckle for helping raise over $8,000 for the Saturday, Nov. 9, celebration, as well for as assisting with military fundraisers for special operations forces and Wounded Warriors, among others.