The gathering was small but the sentiment heartfelt Thursday during the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the College of Lake County.
"I came here to honor my comrades who can't be here," said Craig Emery, an Army vet and CLC student who was among about 35 spectators at the hourlong program in an auditorium on the Grayslake campus.
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"It's important the ones who couldn't come home are remembered," added Emery, a Hainesville resident, who retired this past June after 20 years.
In his opening prayer, Navy Chaplain Cmdr. Roger C. Bouma noted the sacrifices through the years and referenced a gravestone marking: "We gave all our tomorrows so you might have today."
David Nista, the certifying official for veterans benefits at CLC, said the day of remembrance originally commemorated the eleventh hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 when the Allies signed a cease-fire with Germany, ending World War I.
But the "War to End All Wars" was not the last struggle. After World War II and Korea, the small town of Emporia, Kan., broadened the recognition and called it Veterans Day. A Kansas legislator introduced a bill in Congress recommending the change on a national level and in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it, Nista said.
"This is a day of remembrance, a day of reflection and a day of appreciation," he said.
About 800 veterans attend CLC, which has been named a military friendly school the past five consecutive years by G.I. Jobs magazine. Maximizing educational opportunities has been a priority for the college, according to Nista and a number of initiatives and special services, such as a website and club have been implemented.
But there are many who are unaware of what is available and agencies need to work together to provide outreach to veterans in need, said keynote speaker Mike Peck, superintendent of the Lake County Veterans Assistance Commission.
"My office is the best kept secret in Lake County," he said.
About 10,500 of the 37,000 veterans in Lake County are clients of the VAC and use one of its services, he added. There are 1,600 unemployed vets looking for work while another 3,500 unemployed vets have stopped looking.
"For the commission this means that we have 5,100 at risk veterans in Lake County," according to Peck.
Also, new veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq are returning "with a set of issues that were not as frequently recognized" in World War II and Vietnam predecessors. More than half of returning veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Many others have traumatic brain injury, although the two can be confused and a veteran may suffer from both, he said.
Counseling and funding are available but "what is missing is the veteran coming forth and seeking the counseling," according to Peck.
Peck said his goal the past six years has been to be a one-stop shop for veterans and their families to go for assistance.
"We have the programs; we must do the outreach," he said.
Zion resident Jerome Cole, an Air Force major, was one of four veterans who thanked those assembled during an open microphone session. He thanked the audience for its heartfelt support and afterword had a few words for Peck.
"You do a great job of letting everyone know what's going on," he said. "It's huge."