'A day of honor:' Carroll County veterans explain significance of Veterans Day
Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series on the veterans of Carroll County.
He didn’t serve in Vietnam, but Patrick Kirby returned from his service in Ethiopoa the same time other veterans were leaving Vietnam. Kirby said everyone in the airport assumed he had just gotten back from Vietnam, too.
“I dealt with being spit on and being called a baby-killer,” Kirby said. “That’s a stark difference from where we are today.”
These days, Kirby said, more civilians honor veterans on Veterans Day than ever. Kirby said he wishes that happened more frequently.
“I’m not a a fan of once a year acknowledgment of veterans,” Kirby said. “If you value freedom and independence, every day should be Veterans Day.”
The best part of Veterans Day, Kirby said, is sharing his experience with others who served. There’s a certain camaraderie in the military, Kirby said, that you can’t find anywhere else. He said he gets a taste of that on Veterans Day every year.
“They understand the sacrifice and they appreciate what you’ve done, whereas the typical civilian doesn’t get it,” Kirby said.
Army veteran Chuck Welch agreed.
“The biggest thing is the camaraderie, the connection of community and getting together with people who have walked the same path you have,” Welch said. “It’s a significant social support.”
Welch reiterated how difficult it was for Vietnam veterans, saying he had a friend who returned home to a protest right outside the airport.
“He came back and considered himself a hero, and people were spitting on him and everything else,” Welch said. “You did have to do things that were not acceptable in normal society, because that’s a part of it.”
Tearing up, Welch described a Native American ceremony that welcomes warriors back into the tribe.
“They bring the warriors back into the tribe with a ceremony to balance their spirit,” Welch said. “We don’t have that here.”
Vietnam veteran Mike Warkentin said he didn’t enlist wanting to kill anyone — most of the people he served with didn’t. They were called to serve, Warkentin said, and that’s what they did.
“We had a job to do, and back then you got drafted,” Warkentin said. “We took the oath to protect our county.”
Warkentin said he never participated in Veterans Day events until moving to Eureka Springs.
“We are very fortunate in our community to have such an observance of the veterans,” Warkentin said. “I’ve had people come up to me and say that was the best Veterans Day observation they’d ever seen, and that’s saying a lot.”
Still, Warkentin said, he’s not always sure how to respond when someone thanks him for his service.
“It’s hard for some of us to react to that, because we hadn’t heart it until the past few years,” Warkentin said. “It is a good feeling. It makes you feel appreciated.”
Vietnam veteran Roy Tronnes said he enjoys spending time with fellow veterans at the parade in Eureka Springs.
“It’s nice to get together with not only the folks you know but you meet other veterans there, and they’ll sit and chat with you and friends,” Tronnes said. “It makes me proud to be a veteran. I wish everyone were marching in the parade, because they were all veterans.”
Every adult should experience some type of civil service, Tronnes said, whether it’s the military, Peace Corps or government work.
“There are countries that do that, and it works,” Tronnes said.
He’s inspired by everyone who comes out to honor the veterans at the parade, Tronnes said.
“I love seeing those school kids there and the teachers who taught them something about Veterans Day,” Tronnes said. “Two or three years ago, they made posters for all of us and handed it out. That was very nice.”
Most veterans don’t see themselves as heroes, said veteran Mark Pepple. Still, Pepple said, it’s nice to be recognized by the community for his service.
“We just did our jobs. It was nothing spectacular,” Pepple said. “I appreciate how Eureka Springs makes the day about the veterans. Everything is directed toward the veterans.”
World War II veteran Rocky Whiteley said he’s seen the perception of veterans change over the years. He’s grateful to see civilians show veterans so much respect, Whiteley said.
“I think we are finally getting some good recognition, and it’s well-deserved,” Whiteley said. “The greatest honor you can do is to protect your country from foreign or domestic enemies who would destroy your way of life.”
For Cold War veteran Ferguson Stewart, Veterans Day is the best way to honor everything veterans have done to protect the country.
“It’s a special day, and it’s a day of healing,” Stewart said. “I love it when little kids come up and say, ‘Thank you.’ Veterans Day to me is a day of honor. It’s a day of tribute. I just wish every day was Veterans Day.”