The Veterans Day event held Nov. 11 in Bella Vista was a wonderful celebration of our veterans as well as a an entertaining homecoming of sorts for Congressman Steve Womack, whose fondness for Bella Vista, its citizens and officials was quite evident in the words he expressed during his keynote address.
Womack, who served as mayor of Rogers for 12 years, opened his speech by commending his friend and Bella Vista Mayor Peter Christie for the work he does in running a city whose population of 30,000 consists mainly of transplants from other areas.
"I tell people all the time that one of the hardest jobs in public service has to be the mayor of Bella Vista," said Womack, continuing with a laugh, "because you've got all these people who've moved in here from all over creation telling the mayor how they did it back where they came from."
During the introduction of guests -- before Womack began his speech -- event emcee, Lt. Col. Jim Parsons (Ret.) introduced Christie and praised him for getting the most out of the funds available to run the city without the help of factories or big corporations to supplement the economy.
Womack couldn't let the comment go without spicing it up a bit.
"Did you notice that Jim Parsons said, when he was introducing my friend Peter Christie, how he was talking about how this was a city of 30,000 people now and that we don't have any smokestacks ... but we did have the stump dump. Who needs smokestacks?"
Other notes of interest from the event included:
-- Parsons said Christie is also tasked with maintaining "600 miles of roads that weren't built right in the first place," adding, "so we appreciate the things he does on a salary that's not commiserate with other mayors in the state."
-- Parsons introduced Bella Vista resident Basia Berner, 91, to the crowd. As an 11-year old in Warsaw, Poland, she enlisted with the Polish underground's freedom fighters to push back against Hitler's blietkrieg through Poland.
"Many times her life was in jeopardy of being shot outright because she was active in sabotage, espionage, and assassination activities," Parsons said. "Many times she could have been caught and she told me 'it was only through God's will that she's here today.'"
-- Another Bella Vista characteristic that was praised more than once was the way individuals here are so willing and eager to volunteer their own time and efforts to help others.
Two of those individuals, Beau Regan and Ryan Clarke, have committed through their business, Hooyeah Tree & Landscape, to keep the Bella Vista Veterans Wall of Honor clean and looking nice.
"When we had the flood down at Lake Bella Vista," Parsons said, "they took two days off, canceled out money (they would have made) from clients and voluntarily power washed our wall. And they have promised that they would do that every two years whether we have a flood or not."
-- Bella Vista resident and World War II veteran K.B. Smith was also recognized from his seat on the front row by Parsons.
"I asked K.B. Smith (earlier this yeear) if he would be our Fourth of July parade marshal and he said, 'Yes, I would be happy to do that except I've been called back to France because the French delegation wants to give me the highest award that the French give.'"
That French delegation was honoring Smith for his participation on D-Day.
"When he was 17 years old he was on a destroyer off Omaha Beach on June 6," said Parsons. "A huge German artillery piece had to be taken out on the beach. If that cannon had stayed there it would have knocked off troop ships way before they hit the beach. K.B. was on that ship that fired one of the first shots of the Normandy Invasion.
The French delegation ended up coming to Arkansas for the presentation to Smith.
"Instead of him having to go to France, they changed their mind and said, 'We'll come to Bella Vista,'" said Parsons. "So they did. The mountain came to Mohammed.'"
-- Lisa Watten was on hand to accept a certificate of appreciation in honor of her dad, Leonard Watten, who was instrumental as the director and architect of the Veterans Wall of Honor project.
Parsons also said of Lisa Watten, "Her great, great, great, great, great great great grandfather was at Concord Bridge when the British pulled up" at the start of the Revolutionary War.
"The British were hot and tired and probably angry," Parsons said, "and one of the British soldiers, we don't know which one, took a shot at (her relative), missed him and hit the soldier behind him, and so the general was obliged to say, 'Open fire.' And when he did, that was the shot heard round the world. And that was our first shot for freedom."
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Bennett Horne is the Managing Editor of The Weekly Vista. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.