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Weather fails to dampen Veterans Day celebration

Emcee and longtime volunteer Bob Morris speaks at the Bethesda Meadows Veteran Celebration with military Honor Guards . [Steve Vagnino photo]
Emcee and longtime volunteer Bob Morris spoke at the Bethesda Meadows Veteran Celebration with military Honor Guards. [Steve Vagnino photo]

Unexpected wintry weather did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the annual Veterans Day ceremony at Bethesda Meadows on Nov. 11.

Bethesda Meadows in Ellisville is a skilled nursing facility offering specialized care for seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. It also has a rehabilitation center for individuals needing long-term care or additional support between hospital visits and returning home.

Leading the annual Veterans Day program was longtime Bethesda volunteer Bob Morris, whose passion for the project began more than seven years ago.

Morris spends as many as 40 hours per week at Bethesda, largely engaging with the resident population. As a former U.S. Army reservist from 1960 to 1966, he has an appreciation for veterans and their legacies. Developing those relationships helped shape both an onsite military museum and the annual Veterans Day celebration he coordinates.

Morris has heard stories of the Normandy Invasion, Battle of the Bulge and Iwo Jima during his visits with local veterans.

“Little by little, I realized that they may not know what is going on presently, but they can tell me about their military achievements, and highlights of their years in service, including highest rank,” Morris said.

The museum was born from a single flag that had once flown over the U.S. Capitol, which was donated after a family offered it to the facility when their veteran passed. It sparked other residents to begin donating military memorabilia like medals and photos, which has grown into a collection for all to enjoy. The room also includes “The Missing Man” table, serving as a visual reminder of thousands of veterans that remain missing. All 11 items atop the table are symbolic, such as a red ribbon representing a love of country that inspired the service members to serve the country.

While Bethesda had participated in small veteran ceremonies over the years, it was Morris’ vision that helped shape the most last six celebrations, tweaking and adding new elements annually.

For the first time, veterans and residents who live at the other original senior communities in the area including Westview Assisted Living and Gambrill Gardens joined in the celebration. Unfortunately, weather prevented the participation of Autumn View Garden, another original care community.

Thirteen folds of the American Flag by Color Guards Det. Joey Nickles (left) and Cap. Andy Vaughn from Ellisville Police Department.  [Steve Vagnino photo]
Thirteen folds of the American Flag by Color Guards Det. Joey Nickles [left] and Cap. Andy Vaughn from Ellisville Police Department. [Steve Vagnino photo]

Highlights from the 2019 program included the 13 folds of the American Flag, also known as a 13-Fold Ceremony, presented by Capt. Andy Vaughn and Det. Joey Nickles of the Ellisville Police Department. Vice President and Administrator at Bethesda Meadows Candice Brown explained the symbolism of each fold and how each one is based on the same religious principles on which the United States was founded.

In addition to Morris acting as emcee, an address was given by Ellisville Mayor Mike Roemerman. A special tribute was given by Chief of Police Steve Lewis, who gave a rendition of the “What is a Veteran?” poem, which was written by Anthony Barton Hinkle and first appeared as an editorial on Nov. 11, 1995.

Residents serving as the Honor Guard represented each branch of the military, including Air Force, Army Air Corps., Marine Corps., Navy and Coast Guard. 

Before the closing of the program, the Bethesda Meadows veterans who were lost in the last year were remembered. They included James Watson, Ken Husted, David Oller, Joe Fenier, Don Mozingo, Ralph Brandle, Henry Tapy, Roy Poertner and Howard Gleason.

Due to inclement weather, the Elegant Child kindergarten students were not able to sing “God Bless America” or deliver the national anthem.

“We understood them not being able to make it, but the children are a highlight of our service and they were missed,” Morris said. “Despite the last-minute changes, it was a wonderful ceremony.”

World Bird Sanctuary's resident bald eagle Liberty has been a longtime participant of the Bethesda Meadows Veteran Celebration. [Steve Vagnino photo]
World Bird Sanctuary’s resident bald eagle Liberty has been a longtime participant of the Bethesda Meadows Veteran Celebration. [Steve Vagnino photo]
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