Officially, Veterans Day was Sunday, but when Navy veteran Sam Headley landed at Coastal Carolina Regional Airport on Monday, he was greeted with a sweet treat from a grateful group of fellow Americans.
Workers from Navy Federal Credit Union’s Havelock branch had cookies, bottled water, memorabilia and a chance for a basket of goodies and gift cards as a nod of appreciation for vets like Headley, who served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War.
He and his wife Paulette of Pittsburgh, Pa., flew into New Bern to visit their son, Cherry Point Marine Maj. Ted Headley, so they had double reason to feel honored by the gesture that branch manager Joyce Hernandez offered.
Coastal Carolina Regional displayed U.S. flags high and low, from flagpoles and lining sidewalk entrances. Airport director Tom Braaten, himself a veteran who retired as a Marine Corps major general and commander at Cherry Point, stopped by for a moment to thank the veterans and the volunteers. There are 9,280 veterans in Craven County.
With more than 23 million American veterans still living, almost every American of every race and creed knows a veteran and many have a close relative or spouse who served in their country’s military since President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first national celebration of their service with Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919.
Nov. 11 was chosen when the 1918 Treaty of Versailles to end World War I, “the war to end all wars,” was signed to take effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
That hope did not prevail. The country has since been involved in nine conflicts —World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, Gulf War and Desert Storm, Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congress made the national holiday official in 1954 and President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed its name to Veterans Day so all veterans would be honored.
The day of observing Veterans Day was changed in 1968 so it would always make a three-day holiday but a public outcry, ultimately heard by President Gerald Ford in 1975, resulted in him changing it back to Nov. 11.
Hernandez’s husband served in the Marine Corps for 20 years and she has two brothers in-law who served as well.
She and Navy Federal employees volunteered to spend part of their days off serving a little something to those who’d served a lot, including April Fuchs of Havelock and Deb Tallmadge of Emerald Isle. Fuchs’ father is a retired Marine Corps master sergeant and Tallmadge’s husband is retired after 22 years in the Corps.
“We were closed today and brainstormed about what we could do to honor veterans,” said Hernandez. “We’ve heard some great stories from military, active duty, spouses, including one whose husband served 28 years beginning in World War II.”