As soon as Rev. Michael Robinson pulled onto Fort Monroe Saturday morning and saw Hampton University’s ROTC students, he felt a pull. Then, he saw a bus full of veterans pull up, and he felt an even stronger wave of emotion.
“It kind of just tugged on my heartstrings,” the pastor told a crowd of about 150 people at a Veterans Day event early Saturday morning. He talked about joining the Navy right after September 11, 2001. He spent five years with the Marine Corps and went to Kuwait when he was 20 years old.
“For a lot of people, this day is just a day you get off work,” he said of Veterans Day. “For a lot of people in the military its a 96 — four days of liberty. They let you go a day before and come back a day late. But for those who’ve worn the uniform, for those who wear the uniform, we know this day represents so much more.”
The crowd huddled for warmth, listening to Robinson. Later, the families, ROTC members and veterans exchanged stories of military service and planted tiny American flags into the grass — one of the many events planned around Hampton Roads for the holiday.
“To be in a place like Fort Monroe on a day like today is amazing,” Robinson said.
Fort Monroe is like a lasagna, Ranger Aaron Firth said. There are many layers of history from the National Parks Service and the military. Robert E. Lee and Edgar Allan Poe were stationed there, he noted.
“We wanted to have this program for you so we could tell the world Fort Monroe is relevant, that we appreciate our veterans. It’s more than saying thank you for your service. It’s really showing that we appreciate your service,” Terry Brown, superintendent of Fort Monroe, said.
One of the faces in the crowd was James Kotrch, a veteran who brought his boy scouts and eagle scouts. Coming to the ceremony was a way of showing respect, he said.
“I’m not gonna lie, when I hear Taps, I cry every time,” he said before the event.
In a speech, Robinson urged people to treat every day like Veterans Day.
“Shake our hands, tell us that it mattered. Don’t ever let a veteran sit in a coffee shop by himself,” Robinson said.
The message resonated with Kathy and Craig Schnepf, who both retired from the Air Force. Though neither was stationed in Hampton Roads, they moved here after they retired to be near the community of veterans.
“It made me think of why we stand for the national anthem,” Kathy Schnepf said.
At the end of the ceremony, scouts from Troops 29 and 31, both in Hampton, presented a flag, folded 13 times, to Robinson.
After that, Hampton ROTC member Deja Dunn started the slow notes of Taps. Kotrch turned around and started to cry.
Mishkin can be reached by phone at 757-641-6669. Follow her on Twitter at @KateMishkin.