Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, Commanding General of the United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, was the keynote speaker at the Veterans Day program held on post on Friday, Nov. 8. Francis spoke about the importance of remembering and taking care of our veterans.

“Our people are our greatest strength and taking care of them and ensuring they are ready to fight and to win our nation’s wars is our top priority,” Francis said. “We are surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and experience in our combat seasoned veterans, with our outstanding Army family members and your great support that keeps us all strong and with such deeply patriotic neighbors that we have here in our Wiregrass communities that make this home of Army Aviation truly feel like home.”

Francis spoke of the courage and the price paid for our freedoms.

“Today we pay tribute to our great veterans who have served honorably across all components of our United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard,” Francis said. “Brave men and women through tremendous acts of courage and service are the ones who have paid the price for the freedoms that we hold dear. When the nation called, they answered that call to go wherever and whenever they were needed.”

Francis said the focus of Veterans Day is to honor all veterans, especially the living, unlike Memorial Day which honors the fallen.

“Unlike Memorial Day which focuses on the fallen, Veterans Day is a day to pay tribute to all American veterans, living or dead that have served our country honorably, but it is an especially fitting time to honor the living,” Francis said.

In his speech Francis recognized the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the approximately 300,000 Alabama soldiers that fought for our country during World War II.

“Our service members faced daunting odds—elements coming in by air had landed far from their targets, naval gunfire support had ended, amphibious tanks were sinking before they made it to land, landing craft were engulfed by high waves drowning many of their personnel, soldiers had to make their way through chest deep water carrying as much as 90 pounds of ammunition and equipment,” Francis said. “Once the soldiers came ashore they were met with machine gun, mortar and artillery fire. Within the first minutes of that wave an estimated 90 percent of the service members were killed or wounded; within hours, casualties mounted into the thousands.”

Francis spoke about the courageous Alabamians that led the fight on D-Day.

“In many ways, Alabamians led the way that historic day on the ground and from the air. Truly theirs was a mission that demanded nothing less than full victory. The future was in their hands and the freedoms we enjoy today are thanks to their devotion and duty, their skill and their tremendous courage,” Francis said. “Our great veterans live out the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage every day, soldiers who put the needs of others ahead of their own risking their own safety to save their fellow soldiers.”

Francis closed with a thank you to veterans and encouraged everyone to thank a veteran for their service. “Alabama is a patriotic place. And all the surrounding communities in the Wiregrass all have large populations of veterans and continue to serve even today,” Francis said. “Thank you to all of our veterans out there, those who’ve chosen to serve our country and in uniform, put themselves in harms way, serving something bigger than themselves.”

Command Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Otis Smith Jr. was among the veterans that attended the ceremony. He said he often thinks about the soldiers that didn't come home.

“When I am allowed to stand here coming from war, I think about all of those soldiers that didn't come home and I think about them and their families and what they had to go through. It is a privilege to stand for the anthem.”

Smith served 34 years in the Army and was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He also served in Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Kuwait among other places.

Smith was the son of a World War II veteran and he said he is glad veterans are appreciated because he did not understand the meaning of Veterans Day as a child.

“Coming up in the military, my Dad was a World War II veteran but I did not really have a grasp of what Veterans Day was all about,” Smith said. “We did not have organizations coming into our schools and talking about Veterans Day and what veterans mean to our great country.”

Smith is a member of the DAV and enjoys visiting schools and educating students about the importance of veterans, the flag and the anthem.

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