Silence fell over the crowd as the American flag made its way to the stage. The familiar sound of the National Anthem filled the auditorium, falling on the ears of all in attendance, ranging from adolescent to elderly. The typical cheers and whistles did not sound after the final note, but applause was not needed to feel the appreciation for the tribute, as heartstrings were tugged and eyes welled up with tears across the audience.
Almost 100 people gathered in the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem Saturday morning for a USO-style (United Service Organization) show patriotically and humbly presented to pay tribute to U.S. veterans, the sixth annual Celebration of Veterans.
After new Orem City Mayor Jim Evans kicked off the show with his address following the pledge of allegiance, flags representing each branch of service were brought to the stage. Service men and women from the branches were invited to cheer when their flag was shown.
The hooting and hollering stopped abruptly, however, when the final flag was announced and came forward: the POW-MIA flag. The respect for missing comrades was palpable in the silence that fell.
In the traditional style of USO Shows, the mood did not stay somber. Two choirs from Mountain View High School brought levity and laughter as the Men’s Choir sang falsetto and kicked their legs like a Broadway chorus line, and the women’s specialty group Con Brio provided American favorites like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.
The bitter taste of war and the sting of loss that inevitably follows were depicted in several stories. One particularly colorful story was given Colonel Jack Tueller, a WWII veteran in his 90s. Tueller always took his trumpet with him into battle, explaining that if he was captured, he could use his music to “bribe the guards for extra soap.”
Tueller, known for his war stories accompanied by his trumpet performance, has spoken to several crowds in his time, including students of all ages and even CNN. He spoke about the respect needed to prevent war needing to come from within each of us.
“Bullying starts at home,” Tueller said. “True love starts with respect for the image in the mirror.”
Before he performed his renowned trumpet solo, Tueller depicted his first battle experience as a fighter pilot, expressing the depressed morale that came with his first taste of psychological warfare. He also conveyed the loneliness he experienced being “the only one to come back,” waiting on the airstrip for his fellow pilots that never returned.
The stress of waiting for something that will never come back is one that some mothers know all too well. For these Gold Star Mothers, that wait ended with the dreaded knock at the door bringing the announcement of their beloved soldier’s death.
Kim Olsen, a Gold Star Mother after losing her son in Afghanistan 20 months ago, explained what it was like to be a part of this ever-growing community. She explained that the drive these mothers have to push forward and pull together comes from wanting to do what their sons would want.
“We want our sons to be proud of us, like we are of them,” Olsen said.
This pride was certainly abundant Saturday, accompanied with the respect and recognition veterans have earned with their sacrifices. It may be warranted on a daily basis, but these tributes are paid with particular fervor each year on Veteran’s Day.
Brigadier General Allen Tuttle, whose granddaughter Aliza sang the National Anthem and two other songs, explained that this presentation was an excellent expression of appreciation and recognition.
“I don’t think anywhere in the U.S. they do as good as they did here today,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle joined the army in 1951 after graduating from BYU and marrying his “earthly angel.” The telegram to join the Officer Candidates School came while he was on his honeymoon. After his training, he spent 41 years with the California National Guard training soldiers for chemical, biological and radiological combat.
Just like Tuttle, enjoying the recognition with his youngest son’s family, dozens of other veterans went away from the event with misty eyes and a renewed sense of pride.
Story and photos by Jeff Jacobsen – Online Content Manager