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'Look at this wall': Veterans, others gather in Henderson to honor those who gave all

As many area residents took advantage of temperate weather and a three-day weekend to enjoy outdoor activities like backyard cookouts and trips to the lake, about 100 veterans — active military and their families and friends — gathered Monday at the Veterans Memorial at the Rusk County Courthouse to pay respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

VFW Post 8535 commander Paul Johnson, Jr. said he was pleased with the weather and the turnout for the ceremony that included a 21-gun salute from members of the Henderson Police Department and Rusk County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard as well as a performance of taps by recent Henderson High School graduates Aaron Hill and Tucker Dorsey.

“It means a lot,” Johnson said.

“If you look at this wall,” he said, motioning toward the black granite walls of the county’s Veterans Monument that was built to honor the veterans — past and present — from Rusk County who served. “We have a lot of veterans who died in combat, and that’s what Memorial Day is all about — to celebrate their lives but also pray for their loss.”

Johnson says Post 8535 has been closed because its building was recently sold, and they are looking for a new location. So, he said it was an important event for the post to take part in.

“It’s a big deal for us,” he said as patriotic march tunes played in the background. “Besides Veterans Day, this is number one for us because it’s celebrating those who served.”

Other ceremonies were planned in the region to honor Memorial Day, including an event Monday morning at Harris Street Veterans Park in Kilgore with speaker Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bradley Clark and a gathering at Veterans Memorial in Carthage.

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Students at Longview ISD middle school design shirts to benefit veterans charity
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The organization Veterans Assistance Dogs of Texas is set to receive a $400 donation this month thanks to the work of Judson STEAM Academy students.

The sixth-grade class at the Longview ISD school was challenged with graphing points on a plane to make a design inspired by a charity as part of a contest.

Students Cy Marsh and Kyleah LaBouve, who just completed sixth grade at Judson, said they chose Veterans Assistance Dogs of Texas as their charity because they love dogs.

The organization raises service dogs for veterans. Keeping that in mind, Cy said his group’s design included paw prints.

Math teacher Shea Powell said the teachers brainstormed for a good project that would wrap up the unit and give the students a chance to do a service project.

Her fellow math teacher, Devon Thomas, said the whole grade voted on the best design and decided that design would be printed on T-shirts the students could sell to raise money for the charity.

The shirts sold out quickly, raising $400 to donate.

Kyleah said she went around her neighborhood selling shirts.

“It lets me know that I’m helping people,” she said. “It was fun. I think I sold about nine or eight shirts around my neighborhood.”

During the research, Powell said the students became passionate about their charities.

Thomas said the students came up with incredible designs, and it was hard for the grade to vote.

“We wanted to give them an opportunity to use their math for something that was real for them,” she said. “For me, it was really amazing to watch them use that because they were able to take kind of an abstract concept and use it for something that had some meaning for them, and they chose their own charities.”

Biden honors war dead at Arlington, implores nation to heal
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ARLINGTON, Va. — President Joe Biden honored America’s war dead at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day by laying a wreath at the hallowed burial ground and extolling the sacrifices of the fallen for the pursuit of democracy, “the soul of America.”

Biden invoked the iconic battles of history and joined them to the present as he implored Americans to rise above the divisions straining the union, which he described in stark terms.

The president was joined Monday by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff in a somber ceremony at the Virginia cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is dedicated to deceased service members whose remains have not been identified.

His face tight with emotion, Biden walked up to the wreath, cupping it in his hands in silent reflection, then making the sign of the cross. His eyes were wet. The gathered dignitaries and military families were hushed and solemn; the chattering of cicadas loud.

In remarks that followed, Biden called on Americans to commemorate their fallen heroes by remembering their fight for the nation’s ideals.

“This nation was built on an idea,” Biden said. “We were built on an idea, the idea of liberty and opportunity for all. We’ve never fully realized that aspiration of our founders, but every generation has opened the door a little wider.”

He focused much of his speech on the importance of democracy, saying it thrives when citizens can vote, when there is a free press and when there are equal rights for all.

“Generation after generation of American heroes are signed up to be part of the fight because they understand the truth that lives in every American heart: that liberation, opportunity, justice are far more likely to come to pass in a democracy than in an autocracy,” Biden said. “These Americans weren’t fighting for dictators, they were fighting for democracy. They weren’t fighting to exclude or to enslave, they were fighting to build and broaden and liberate.”

But he suggested these ideals are imperiled.

“The soul of America is animated by the perennial battle between our worst instincts, which we’ve seen of late, and our better angels,” he said. “Between Me First and We the People. Between greed and generosity, cruelty and kindness, captivity and freedom.”

After the ceremony, the Bidens stopped by a row of gravestones in a cemetery where some 400,000 are buried in the gentle hills and hollows.

The Bidens held hands and strolled along the rows of Section 12, one of the primary burial locations of service members killed overseas and repatriated to the United States after World War II and the Korean War. They stopped to chat with several families visiting the graves of their loved ones or searching for them — one family came to find a great-uncle missing in action from the world war.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Biden and Harris in the ceremony.

On Sunday, Biden addressed a crowd of Gold Star military families and other veterans in a ceremony at War Memorial Plaza in New Castle, Delaware. Earlier in the day, he and other family members attended a memorial Mass for his son Beau Biden, a veteran who died of brain cancer six years ago to the day.