When third- and fourth-grade students from the Lodi Seventh-Day Adventist School started to sing the National Anthem, everyone stood up or stopped in the aisles to stand at attention saluting the flag.
The group of all ages crowded into the American Legion Post 22 in Lodi to honor veterans Wednesday morning. Many in the crowd wore military attire, Legion hats and T-shirts decorated with the American flag or military mottos.
The ceremony included the 191st Army Band with two drummers and three bagpipers, the Lodi Community Band, Mayor Larry Hansen, Assemblywoman Alyson Huber and the keynote speaker, Brigadier General Jack Hagen, III of the California State Military Reserve.
Uniforms from different eras were displayed, and newspaper clippings proclaiming American war milestones hung from the walls.
Hansen, who was in the U.S. Navy, said he was really overwhelmed at the turnout and said it was a great reflection of our community. He was especially touched that the children's choir and Girl Scouts participated in the ceremony.
"It warms your heart when they have that type of enthusiasm when saying the Pledge of Allegiance," Hansen said.
Pastor Dale Edwards gave an invocation at the beginning during which he mentioned the attack on Fort Hood and said it is important to remember Lockeford resident Kyle Coumas, who was killed Oct. 21 when his vehicle was attacked by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Edwards said he "never more proud of this community" than when many people waved American flags during Coumas' funeral procession on Nov. 3.
He also told the story of the prophet Isaiah who heard the Lord say "whom shall I send?"
"Those service men and women who have given their lives said we will go," Edwards said.
He prayed for everyone who has served.
"Men and women fought for liberty and gave us our freedom," he said.
Hansen said the Lodi City Council has faced some real challenges to protect freedoms when it had to decide on whether to keep prayers before council meetings. The council re-evaluated its policy after a national organization threatened to sue the city over its invocations.
"I'm proud we took a stand and said 'no,' our country is founded on that freedom of religion and to pray with no censorship," Hansen said and the crowd responded with applause.
With tears in his eyes, veteran Bill Selling, who served for 33 years, said he always participates in Veteran Day ceremonies.
"We need to recognize these people because they are why we have freedom today," he said.