Monday morning’s Memorial Day service at the local VFW Post was typical in every respect but one.
The highest ranking soldier ever known to take the podium at a public event in Scott County, General Carl W. Stiner, U.S. Army, Retired, was the featured speaker.
Gen. Stiner, 76, was born and reared in LaFollette, and is a 1958 graduate of Tennessee Tech.
Invited and introduced by Scott County Mayor Jeff Tibbals, the four-star general delivered a brief but moving tribute to those who gave their lives for their country.
He also expressed concerns about America’s future due to faltering patriotism and current political leanings, and capped it off with this tribute to veterans from an unknown author:
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[s2If current_user_can(access_s2member_level1)]“It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
“It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
“It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
“It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
“It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
“It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
“It is the veteran, who salutes the flag. It is the veteran, who serves under the flag.”
Gen. Stiner began his address by recalling the facts leading up to the establishment of “Decoration Day” in 1863, and informing his audience how that tradition transformed into Memorial Day.
He also enumerated the price America has paid for freedom throughout its history.
Gen. Stiner reminded his audience of the existence of 100-plus national cemeteries across the U.S., as well as thousands upon thousands of soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen who are in graves overseas.
And, he pointed out that there are 89,000 service men and women who died for their country but were never properly interred because, he said, “their graves are unknown.”
“What a terrible price we paid for our freedom,” Stiner said, recalling his thoughts during a recent visit to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
He quoted patriotic tributes from Thomas Paine, as well as from memorial markers in Arlington National Cemetery, and Khe Sann, Vietnam.
But he also stated that “in some circles today it’s unfashionable to be patriotic,” and expressed his concerns about the future of America.
He indicated he was concerned about the prevailing political situation, including such things as the attacks on children in the classrooms, and America’s “$70 billion in crimes each year.”
During the course of his address, Gen. Stiner asked his listeners to “keep the faith,” to teach their children to do likewise, and to thank a veteran for his or her service whenever possible.
While Gen. Stiner shied away from any mention of his illustrious 35-year career in the U.S. Army, that subject was covered in great detail during his introduction by Mayor Tibbals.
Tibbals provided the highlights of Gen. Stiner’s military career, from his commissioning as an officer at Fort Benning, Ga., in the late 1950s, through the decades as he climbed up through the Army’s ranks to being awarded his fourth star as General in the 1990s.
His Army career included tours of duty stretching from Saudia Arabia to Vietnam, and overseeing such special operations as the capture of terrorists in the Achille Lauro hijacking, the Panama invasion and capture of Manuel Noriega, and directing special operations during Operation Desert Storm.
Tibbals also noted Gen. Stiner’s collaboration with best-selling author Tom Clancy for the book Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces, published in 2002, as well as reviewing a lengthy list of the general’s decorations and awards garnered throughout his Army career.
Following the special flag-raising ceremony, 21-gun salute and “Taps,” Gen. Stiner left the stage to be greeted by several local veterans who had served under him in various places during his career.
Other activities during the course of the hour-long Memorial Day observance included welcoming comments by Senior Vice Commander of VFW Post #5669, Bobby J. Hughett, invocation by Rev. Bobby Hill, singing of the national anthem by Kim Hill, presentation of VFW scholarships to Slone Botts and Jessie Morrow, raising the various service flags, and the placing of three ceremonial wreaths at the Memorial Wall.[/s2If]