On one of the first dreary, blustery mornings of this fall season, Johnson County community members gathered together at Naval Air Park in the New Century AirCenter to honor veterans and re-dedicate the park in the County’s 24th Annual Veterans Day Program.
In front of a backdrop of former service planes that decorate the landscape at the 60 year old park, with dozens of American flags waving in the wind and with the Olathe South High School band providing an prelude of patriotic music, County Commissioner Calvin Hayden took to the podium as a last minute master of ceremonies fill-in for the ill Lee Metcalf, Director of the Johnson County Airport Commission and Air Force Veteran.
Hayden, an Army veteran himself, kicked off the event by drawing the crowd’s attention two planes flying above, both former military service planes. He then acknowledged the men and women of the Commemorative Air Force Heart of America Wing based at New Century, a group dedicated to preserving air history. Hayden then introduced the Bombshell Betties who performed a light-hearted skit and then danced to the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.
Outgoing Johnson County Commission Chairman Annabeth Surbaugh gave her final Veterans Day address to the crowd.
“It’s your service to our great nation that we celebrate today,” she said, recognizing the anniversaries of significant military conflicts including the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War and 60th anniversary of the Korean War.
She also addressed the re-dedication of the park, which honors 16 Naval service members who trained at the Johnson County Naval Air Station who did not return from their deployments, saying, “this site was born out of shared human need to undersatnd.”
She handed over the podium to keynote speaker Lt. Col.Jay Selanders, veteran of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq and a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross. The lieutenant serves with the 117th Air Refueling Squadron of the 190th Refueling Wing at Forbes Field in Topeka.
Sleanders recalled the opening days of Operation Desert Shield, saying that his group delivered 240,000,000 pounds of gas during that conflict.
“The opportunity to serve in that operation, we thought, was one of a kind,” Selanders said. “We hoped it was an ending. As it turned out, it was the beginning of many things.”
He described landing a disabled aircraft loaded with fuel, an act that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. Selanders learned three things that day: Boeing makes a good airplane, and with good training and a good crew, you can bring it home.
He said military members have a tremendous opportunity to serve, but that it can also be a tremendous burden.
“The support back home makes it possible,” he said. “Everybody plays a part.”