As she spoke of the sacrifices made by veterans and their families, Major Amy Johnson issued a challenge.
She urged those gathered at Trinity Lutheran Church to help veterans and to listen to their stories.
Johnson, a longtime Fremonter, was the keynote speaker at the 15th Annual Veterans Day Program at the Fremont church.
The church sanctuary was full on Friday afternoon as area residents heard Trinity Lutheran School students sing patriotic songs; applauded veterans who stood when their branches of the military were recognized; and watched a poignant and patriotic video while a recording of “Amazing Grace” — played on bagpipes — wafted through the room.
Johnson, who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1992, joined the Nebraska National Guard as a medic in 2004.
Today, she is the public health officer for the 155th Air Refueling Wing in Lincoln, serving one weekend a month and two weeks a year. As a civilian, she’s the administrator at Prairie Fields Family Medicine in Fremont.
Johnson’s son, Quinlan, a fifth-grader at Trinity, introduced his mom to program attendees.
In her talk, Johnson paid tribute to the nation’s veterans, military service members and their families for their sacrifices.
She said those who enlist in the military know their service will be difficult at times and that they may be asked to deploy around the world in a moment’s notice — leaving behind a visible void in within their families and communities.
“They know this service may sometimes take them to extremely dangerous places, such as the muddy World War II hedgerows of Normandy, the snowy mountains of the Korean Conflict, the simmering jungles of Vietnam or the withering heat of Iraq and Afghanistan,” Johnson said.
“And sometimes they know this service will not be appreciated, nor even supported by their fellow Americans, as our Vietnam War veterans know all too well.
“Most of all, they — and their families know — that when they agree to serve in the United States Armed Forces, they are signing a blank check to their nation, a check that may be payable by their very lives, because sometimes serving in the United States military means making the ultimate sacrifice.”
With her words, Johnson verbally painted scenes her listeners could picture in their minds — scenes of flag-covered caskets in which fallen service members are taken to final places of rest.
“Many of us have felt that pain and shed the tears of that loss,” she said. “Many of us here today continue to carry the weight of that loss.”
Johnson talked about setting aside a moment to shake veterans’ hands and thank them for their service, but said she doesn’t think that’s enough.
“Many of you do not think that is enough,” Johnson said. “We can attest to this by the amount of support and participation in the Trinity First Annual Run for Warriors.”
Johnson thanked Ashley Waggy and her committee for making the Nov. 5 event wonderful for veterans and military personnel.
She also challenged her audience — especially its youngest members — to seek out veterans, thank them for their service, to truly listen to their stories and the lessons they’ve learned — “and try somehow to incorporate these lessons into your daily life.”
Johnson went further, telling audience members to find a veteran, help that person and to visit a veterans’ home and volunteer their time.
It will mean a lot to the veteran and that person’s family.
“And I truly believe it will come to mean a lot to you, too,” Johnson said.
Earlier in the program, the Rev. Dan Heuer gave a brief history behind “The Star Spangled Banner” and Trinity Principal Greg Rathke sang the song.
Children in grades kindergarten through second waved small American flags as they sang “I Love This Country” and students in upper grades sang patriotic songs as well. After the program, veterans were asked to stand in a line in the fellowship hall, where they received thanks, handshakes and even some hugs from other program attendees.