Area veterans and their families gathered at American Legion Post 89 in Seymour at the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month to celebrate those who have served in the Armed Forces.

The program featured guest speaker Gary Dyer, a Vietnam veteran and chaplain, an Honor Guard ceremony and a luncheon for attendees.

Dyer spoke about his experience in Vietnam and thanked veterans for the sacrifices made throughout the years.

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Landing in California on his way home from Vietnam, Dyer said he and other veterans were not received well. He said he participated in several Veterans Day programs throughout Jackson County on Friday and noticed a major difference between then and now.

“We get more welcomed now than when I returned,” he said of the students that greeted him and other veterans following programs at Gaiser Park and the Jackson County Courthouse in Brownstown. “I got more hugs yesterday and at Brownstown I got about 15 homemade cards from students thanking me. What better thing to get.”

Dyer shared one of the cards during his address on Saturday. The card was from a student thanking him for his service to the country and Dyer said he was touched when he read the other side of the card.

“He said, ‘I love you, veteran,’” Dyer said as he showed the card to the crowd. “I wish every veteran could experience that.”

Dyer said things were not easy and it took him more than 10 years to get over some of the difficulties he had coping with his experiences in the Vietnam War.

“It was crazy coming back,” he said. “The bitterness caused me to do really stupid things after the war and cost me everything I had but my life and my job. I got a touch of the church in 1978 and radically changed my life.”

Dyer said there are many veterans who are not as lucky as him to be able to turn things around after a deeply traumatizing experience. He has since returned to Vietnam twice and said it provided him with some closure.

“It provided a great touch of healing for me,” he said. “Everything is so different there than what it was.”

Odas Higginbotham, the legion’s post commander, agreed and shared statistics that show 20 veterans take their own lives each day. Higginbotham encouraged those in the crowd to make veterans aware of resources available to them if they know of a veteran who needs help.

“This is a tragedy for all Americans, since so many of these veterans have never recovered from invisible wounds that they incurred while defending us,” he told the crowd.

Higginbotham reminded the crowd it was their responsibility, and that of every citizen, to express gratitude to veterans so they know their sacrifices are not forgotten.

“It is up to us to ensure that every veteran feels that his or her service to this country is appreciated by their fellow Americans,” he said. “There are many tangible ways that we can acknowledge their sacrifice, but the easiest is to simply say, ‘Thank you for what you have done for our country.’”

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Jordan Richart is a correspondent for The (Seymour) Tribune.