Retired Maj. Gen. Monroe T. Smith reached deep into the cauldron of history to impress upon the audience at Tuesday's Veterans Day observance the importance of all veterans, no matter what country they have served.
"Veterans are sometimes necessary to the survival of a nation," said the 77-year-old retired Air Force officer, now living in Weeki Wachee, who served throughout the world for 37 years, including time in Vietnam.
In his speech at VFW Post 9236, Smith cited Rome, the longest reigning world ruler at 700 years. Roman senators led the legions, returning from battles up and down Italy, throughout what is now Europe, across the Middle East and into Africa. They returned as able governing veterans.
But the empire's fall began when rule was handed down by bloodlines, when inept emperors contracted out defense of its territories. Asking for seasoned veterans in the Senate to come to the rescue, the emperors found there were none.
"For the lack of veterans and leadership, Rome lost the ability and the will to fight," said Smith, an avid reader of Edward Gibbon's compilation The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
"Let's remember our veterans," he urged, "and pledge our vigilance to protect this nation. Let's never forget our allegiance to the Constitution."
America has a core today of more than 23-million veterans, Smith noted.
"We go off to fight wars and we come back veterans. We are ready, willing and able to do it again," he said.
In a brief personal mention, Smith said he called the Air Force and volunteered for the Persian Gulf War. "I was told we weren't in that much trouble," he said.
The VFW post and auxiliary recognized winners of its essay contest on the theme, "Why Should Veterans be Honored."
Kelsey Colasa, a 12-year-old student at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, won a $400 scholarship for her written essay.
Jessica Garrett, 17, an entrant from Nature Coast Technical High School, earned a $500 award for her audio essay. She performed it for the audience of about 100, who gave her a standing ovation.
The Navy JROTC at Central High School provided a snappy color guard to open and close the ceremony.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.