By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
For Truman Cox, Nov. 11th holds a special significance.
It was Veterans Day afternoon 67 years ago, when Cox came home to a letter from the government. “Greetings,” he remembers it began, “You’ve been selected.”
It was the beginning of the Korean War.
Within a few short months, he was on a boat alongside thousands of other new infantrymen. Upon landing at a port in Alaska, they marched the several hundred miles to Anchorage — eight hours a day, 50 minutes at a time, with 10-minute rests in between. Their duty was to clean the mothballed equipment left behind by World War II.
Cox, 89, was one of the several dozen Liberty Hill-area veterans who came to the Liberty Hill Junior High School Friday where students led a Veterans Day event in the gymnasium.
Crowded in the bleachers, students and families of veterans listened as the student officers in the National Junior Honor Society read from prepared speeches.
“Today we honor every man and woman who had served in our armed forces and bravely defended America from the many evils of the world,” said Jaxon Heider, the Honor Society’s historian.
“Whether they served here or abroad,” he continued, veterans should be thanked for ensuring that their fellow Americans are able to live their lives “free of tyranny or fear.”
The program included a performance of the National Anthem by the school band, and a rendition of the patriotic march “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” by the school’s choir.
The crowd applauded as veterans from each branch of service, seated in chairs in front of the bleachers, were called to stand.
Some served purely out of a sense of duty. Others say they felt it was their only ticket to a college education. A few ended up making the military their career. Many took their new skills to the civilian world, such as the several junior high school teachers who sat among the veterans.
All saluted the same flag on Friday while Taps crooned out of a trumpet played by the band’s director.
“When I can make a person wake up at the same time as the guy next to him, dress the same, speak the same, walk the same, that’s a culture,” says Captain Eric Leatherman, an active member of the National Guard who lives in Liberty Hill.
Sitting at his desk in Camp Mabry, Leatherman says that while veterans are “just like everyone else in line at the HEB,” it is this culture that unites them.
“Across generations the threat might be different, the bad guy might be different, but it’s still very much a mindset of being a soldier,” he says.
When Leatherman enlisted as a student in the ROTC at Texas State University, he was following in the steps of his father and grandfather before him.
Out of the 1.6 million veterans that the Department of Veteran Affairs report live in Texas, many call Liberty Hill home. Some grew up in the town. Others simply found a community worth settling down in while stationed at Camp Mabry or Fort Hood.
Master Sergeant Gerald Lorance, also stationed at Camp Mabry, says he personally knows at least three service members at the base who live in his neighborhood.
There is a “big-time” community of veterans in Liberty Hill, says retired veteran Anthony Buck, “most of us know each other.”
Buck is one of the many veterans highly involved in the community.
Over the course of decades (24 years, 8 months, and 26 days, he says exactly), Buck had served in several military branches, and had been sent to places as far away as Bosnia for peacekeeping. For his last post, which had him respond to “every natural disaster in Texas,” he moved to Liberty Hill in 2003.
When he retired in 2012, he stayed. He had “wholeheartedly embraced” Liberty Hill, he said.
In 2015, he ran for a place on the Liberty Hill Independent School District Board of Trustees — and won.
“Being on the school board has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” he says. “The disaster response was important, but when you’re voting to hire teachers, proposing bonds to build new schools, that’s really important to me.”
Lorance, who Buck once served alongside, has a similar story.
After he enlisted in 1992, Lorance was sent to postings across the United States, to Germany and to Afghanistan. Soon after moving to Liberty Hill, however, he’s decided to stay.
He spoke at the junior high assembly Friday, where he was introduced first as an “active member of the Liberty Hill community,” and second as a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army.
He served as Chair for the 2016 LHISD Bond Committee, which made the Rancho Sienna Elementary School possible. He is the President of Liberty Hill Youth Football & Cheer, and is the founder of the Liberty Hill Panther Wrestling Club.
For Lorance, serving is about “giving back.”
Community leaders in Liberty Hill have proven eager to do the same.
Renovations at the City’s Veterans Memorial Park are expected to be complete around the beginning of next year. The park, which displays five monuments listing the names of local veterans, has long been a centerpiece of downtown. The improvements at the park will expand the size of its lot, add a wrought iron fence and archway, and reposition the monuments around a flagpole.
Earlier this year, the Santa Rita Ranch subdivision partnered with the non-profit Operation Finally Home to offer a mortgage-free home to a Purple Heart recipient with special needs related to his injuries. It was the second home the neighborhood had opened with the program.
At the home’s groundbreaking, the crowd numbered more than 100. Among them were local firefighters and police, Liberty Hill’s mayor and area motorcyclists.
“This is a celebration of what men and women do to pay a sacrifice for this country,” the subdivision’s developer Ed Horne said to the crowd.
Reception to veterans has not always been so positive, at least on a national scale, remember some veterans in Liberty Hill.
William Coleman, a retired Air Force veteran, enlisted in the early 1960s in hope of pre-empting the draft, which at the time was calling first on those with medical training.
“We were abused terribly during Vietnam,” he says.
Though he served through the period of early escalations in Vietnam, he ultimately stayed in Texas for the entirety of his time enlisted. His discharge came the very day President Lyndon B. Johnson “made it a big war,” he says.
“Public perception— that’s the big difference between our generations,” said Chad Becker, another retired Air Force service member in Liberty Hill who served during the Second Gulf War in Iraq.
Over the course of his 20 years in the military, from the late 1990s to the 2000s, Becker says he noticed veterans being given more respect in public.
“Now we’re encouraged to walk through the airport in uniform,” he says, while previously most avoided it.
“People thank you, but you don’t think it’s a really big deal,” he says.
It is a sentiment expressed by many veterans.
“It was hard doing what we did,” Cox says, “but it was just our service.”