Though Shirley Barrett’s father died before he saw her in uniform, she felt his presence when she stood ready for duty.
“On my first day I stood in uniform, the tears rolled down my face,” Barrett said. “I could see my father marching in uniform. I said, ‘Papa, I’m here.'”
Barrett, 84, served in WWII with the Women’s Army Corps on detached service to the Army Air Corps.
Barrett’s father, a veteran of the Spanish American War, inspired Barrett to enlist, even in a time when women were a rarity in the Army.
Aside from her two marriages – she was widowed and remarried – “my two years of service were the best years of my life,” Barrett said.
Her story was just one of many that filled the event room of the Senior Center on Saturday morning. Nearly 200 veterans caught up and exchanged remarkable stories of their military service in remembrance of Veteran’s Day.
Pat Moore, the recreation coordinator for special events at the Senior Center, said this marked the 11th year of the Veteran’s Day Breakfast.
Each year, different sponsors provide food and volunteers while a speaker addresses the crowd. Various ceremonies were conducted for the event, such as the posting of colors, the Pledge of Allegiance and a performance of “Taps.”
Lt. Jonathan Hantsbarger, a recent CSU graduate, addressed the veterans with a focus on his gratitude.
“I thank you all for what you’ve done for us, for what you’ve given to me,” Hantsbarger said. “The way I can honor you is by carrying your stories, to my children and my grandchildren.”
Col. Louis Bonin is one veteran who wasn’t sure if he would get a chance to share some of these stories.
Bonin was a U.S. Marine from 1942 to 1977, and in that time served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. During WWII, he served in the Solomon Islands campaign on both the islands of Bougainville and Guadalcanal.
“I was left for dead on Bougainville, but the corpsman didn’t give up on me,” Bonin said.
In 1949, Bonin took some time off to pursue a degree at CSU, then Colorado A&M, but later as a lieutenant was selected as one of 30 out of 400 candidates to go immediately to Korea. Twenty-two of those 30 lieutenants didn’t come back.
“I was one of the lucky eight,” he said.
Father Don Willette, of the John 23rd University Parish, conducted the invocation at the ceremony as both a minister and veteran. Willette served a total of 30 years, including three tours of Vietnam.
Willette emphasized the importance of the veterans’ stories.
“You can preach doctrines and political platforms, but it’s the stories and testimonies of those who have been there and done it that matter,” he said. “It’s like the famous quote, ‘If we do not learn from the past, we are destined to repeat it.'”
Staff writer Callie Moench can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.