Tyler Schulz skipped classes at Elkhorn Ridge Middle School on Monday morning, but his dad, Brent Schulz, didn’t mind. In fact, he stood right there beside his son, each wearing the uniform of the Boy Scouts of America.
The two were among about 300 people who braved an icy wind at Omaha’s Memorial Park to pay a Veterans Day tribute to the men and women who have worn different uniforms: those of America’s armed forces.
“We figure we learn a lot more about history from the guys who made it,” Brent Schulz said.
There was plenty of history present at the Memorial Park event, which included veterans of every major conflict from World War II on.
History and gratitude were also on display at other Veterans Day activities across the Midlands. For example, Hy-Vee Supermarkets offered free breakfast for veterans, to honor people who served.
At the park, a ferocious breeze whipped a giant flag that was stretched between the extended ladders of two firetrucks, as well as another on a tall flagpole.
“Holy cow, it’s cold out here!” the Rev. Dave Reeson, a retired Air Force chaplain, said before delivering an invocation.
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert noted that there are at least 4,600 Nebraskans serving in the National Guard and that many veterans head into another form of public service as police officers and firefighters.
“War and service are current events, not something from the history books,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., offered appreciation for the World War II veterans who, he said, “took us from being a great nation to being the greatest nation.”
He paid special tribute to those who served during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
“We need to gather here today — in spite of the chill and the wind — to say thanks to all of them,” Terry said.
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., noted that it is still a relative few who choose a military life.
“We can thank a generation of patriots when we recognize the sacrifices they make and their families make,” Fischer said. “They step forward. They answer the call to serve all of us.”
Gov. Dave Heineman noted that Nebraskans had paid tribute to veterans two Saturdays ago during the Huskers’ football game in Lincoln against Northwestern University, and jokingly credited vets for the last-second Hail Mary pass that won the game for the Cornhuskers.
He said Nebraska is a great place for current and former military folks to live.
“We demonstrate to our military personnel and veterans how much we appreciate you,” Heineman said. “We are here to honor you for the gifts you have given to this state.”
Army veteran Mike Helm, a candidate for national commander of the American Legion, called on everyone to remember that veterans need jobs, that the number of homeless veterans is too high, and that 22 veterans each day commit suicide.
“Thank them for their service,” he said, “and look in your heart to see if there’s a little more that you could be doing.”
The services wrapped up with patriotic songs, a 21-gun salute and a performance of taps that left some eyes moist from something other than the stinging cold.
The weather didn’t matter so much for Sgt. 1st Class Prasad Emani, 57, of the Elkhorn area, a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War who still serves in the Army Reserve.
“I just wanted to be part of the celebration,” Emani said. “Being part of a tribute for all the vets — it’s just a good feeling.”