York Co. Veterans Day ceremony brings lighthearted optimism

Quadruple-amputee Travis Mills is determined not to let life get him down.

"No. 1: I'm awesome," he said. "No. 2: I'm humble."

He opened his keynote speech at York County's annual Veterans Day ceremony and breakfast on Saturday, Nov. 11, at the York Expo Center with lighthearted jokes, stories and jabs at fellow military members.

As he told the stories of meeting his wife, joining the military and adjusting to life after losing both arms and legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, Mills said, "I truly am a happy-go-lucky person." 

Korean War veterans Sterling Bechtel (L) and Ernie Eaton (R) served from 1953-54 and 1950-52, respectively. They attended York County's annual Veterans Day ceremony and breakfast on Saturday, Nov. 11.

(Photo by Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

More:OPED: Honoring those who serve and sacrifice

More:Vietnam vet to be honored at annual Veterans Day commemoration

He said he does not put on a show of being happy. When he thinks of others who died in the line of duty and cannot be with their families, he feels he owes it to them to enjoy his life.

"For their sacrifice, I'm gonna keep pushing on," he said.

Vietnam veterans honored: Harold Redding, a North Codorus Township man who was recognized on Saturday for establishing the first National Vietnam War Veterans Day last year, also feels it's important to honor those sacrifices.

"I always believed it was the obligation of those that returned from war to make sure that those who did not return are never forgotten," Redding said.

He said the 27 months he spent with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and others to establish the national day of recognition for Vietnam veterans, March 29, was a small price to pay for the 58,000 American men and women who gave their lives in service during the Vietnam War.

Jeff Herbert, a retired Washington D.C. firefighter, plays the bagpipes at services honoring veterans and military. He played at York County's annual Veterans Day ceremony and breakfast on Saturday, Nov. 11.

(Photo by Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Decades of service: Saturday's ceremony honored the many veterans who served the nation throughout the years, including Korean, Vietnam, Desert Storm and post-9/11 war veterans, as well as six veterans from World War II.

"It's an honor to be among so many veterans from so many war zones, " Mills said, estimating more than 1,500 in the crowd.

Vietnam War veteran Bill Fissel, who served for a year in 1967 patrolling the Mekong River, comes each year to visit old friends in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a nonprofit group for veterans, he said. It was the second event honoring veterans he had attended within two days.

Paul Hedrich served as a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps. from 1972-1985 and wears eight commemorative medals on his uniform. Now, he said, he helps with the Marine Corps Toy Drive, which reached 1,700 kids last year.

Many attendees, such as Darla and Jim Liddle, of Springettsbury Township, showed their respect for the veterans with patriotic colors. Jim Liddle wore a red tie that matched his wife's red sweater, which she complemented with her own sparkly blue scarf and blue lipstick.

More:York County Prison testing veterans-only housing unit

The two cut and brought 800 flowers from a local florist, which they said they do every year.

Four members of William Penn Senior High School's color guard posted the national colors for the ceremony. 

Jaylin Laboy, a second-time attendee, was brimming with excitement as she spoke with pride of her fellow junior ROTC members and described the items on her uniform.

She commended the ceremony for honoring veterans. "They don't get a lot of appreciation," she said.

Members of William Penn Senior High School's color guard participate in York County's annual Veterans Day ceremony and breakfast on Saturday, Nov.11. 
(L to R: Justin Puente, Jaylin Laboy, Stephania Rivas, Jessica Caraballo)

(Photo by Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Officials honor vets: Toomey, state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, York County members of the state House of Representatives, the county commissioners and York City mayor-elect Michael Helfrich also were in attendance.

Helfrich expressed his appreciation for a day to honor veterans and said he would work to make sure veterans in York City have all they need. He said all veterans need to be honored.

"We can disagree about politics," Helfrich said, but he emphasized that the sacrifices the veterans have made are beyond politics.

Mills closed out his speech by looking to the future with the Travis Mills Foundation, which helps families of injured veterans enjoy activities together, such as mountain biking and kayaking. 

Reach Lindsay VanAsdalan at lvanasdalan@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @lcvanasdalan