WARNER ROBINS -- Miguel Baez Jr. stands in front of Warner Robins City Hall, grasping a photo of a young man in camouflage, who is looking intensely into the camera, a smile in his eyes.
Its Baezs son, Cpl. Miguel Baez III, who would have been here with his father. The younger Baez was killed Feb. 8, 2008, while serving in Iraq. The elder Baez is a Vietnam War veteran, and father and son used to spend Veterans Day together. They would venture to the Warner Robins observance to honor the sacrifice of active military personnel and veterans, such as themselves.
Now, the elder Baez has lost his son, but he still brings his son along.
Every year I bring a different picture of him, Baez said through tears.
Baez was one of hundreds of veterans and supporters who stood outside City Hall on Monday on a sunny Veterans Day. During the annual celebration, veterans chatted, shed tears, saluted the American flag and embraced one another.
Some veterans lined a small stage, nodding as retired Chief Master Sgt. Danny Johnson spoke of the militarys courage and sense of duty. That service has made the United States the nation it is today, and it should garner respect and support, he said.
If not us, then who? Even when the military wasnt popular, we answered the call, he said. We made a difference, and thats why I love you all.
Down the road at the Museum of Aviation, visitors clad in American flag-print shirts and caps strolled throughout the buildings, chatting with veterans and inspecting aircraft. In one of the hangars, veterans gathered as a Veterans Day cake was cut.
This is an opportunity to give thanks to the ones who have gone before us, who have served before us, retired Senior Master Sgt. Willie Jones said. It allows us to honor the veterans of America and of our allies who fought with us in those many wars and many conflicts.
Back at City Hall, a line of veterans grasped large American flags, many sporting leather jackets and bandanas. Members of the U.S. Military Vets Motorcycle Club, such as Doug Smith of Warner Robins, hit the pavement to bring awareness to veterans. On his way to the ceremony, Smith was sitting at a stoplight when he glanced at a Vietnam veteran sitting in a vehicle next to him. The veteran waved, a gesture that moved Smith.
Just to wave at him, and he waved back, Smith said, It gives you chills. It really does.
After all, Veterans Day is not only a chance for citizens to show their appreciation but an opportunity for veterans to recognize one another. As he stood with his sons photo, Baez shook hands with another veteran. The man had approached Baez, wiping tears as he asked Baez about his late son.
Baez spoke softly, explaining that his son was scheduled to return home in seven days when he was killed at age 32. He was the father of four children.
I get emotional, Baez said about speaking with other veterans about his son. It means a lot to me. ... This was something that me and (my son) always cherished.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.