In honor of Armed Forces Day on Saturday, soldiers, veterans and their families gathered near the Wall that Heals in front of the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona for a special ceremony.
Armed Forces Day recognizes all members and branches of the military.
“I feel honored to be here amongst all these retired vets because they not only gave three years, most of them gave 20 to 30 years and that’s a lot to give to your country,” said John Wertz, a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1970 to 1973.
Wertz’s cousin, Harold Stitt, was the event’s guest speaker. The Altoona-native is a decorated, retired U.S. Army Major. Stitt was awarded a Bronze Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Purple Heart. However, Stitt does not want to be called a hero.
“As far as I’m concerned, the heroes are buried somewhere,” said Stitt.
Instead, Stitt encourages everyone to thank the men and women in uniform.
“Civilians: when you see these guys in uniform or you know their wives or families — but particularly the guys in uniform — thank them for their service. They never get tired of hearing that.”
Wertz said Armed Forces Day is an important reminder for civilians to reflect on all soldiers who made sacrifices for their country.
“It’s sad and it does bring tears to your eyes, but it’s also a time to be happy for the guys that are here. The guys that made it back,” said Wertz.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s latest data from December 2017, there are about 1.3 million active duty military and 800,000 reserve forces.