One by one, veterans took their turn shaking hands and exchanging nods of respect with war hero Silvestre S. Herrera, 91, as he stood proudly wearing his Medal of Honor around his neck.
About 40 people gathered in 90-degree heat in north Scottsdale admiring a presentation of colors and listening in reverence to a high school band play in honor of the upcoming Veterans Day.
“It was very touching,” said Jackie Wolf, executive sales director for Classic Residence at Silverstone, where the event took place Thursday on a breezy patio.
Guest speaker Dr. Connie Mariano spoke about the history and the true meaning of Veterans Day — formerly known as Armistice Day to honor the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.
She served as personal physician for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, traveling the world with the commanders in chief.
“Although there weren’t ever any true emergencies ... you’re always on call,” she said, referring to the demands of her former job. “Always on duty, and always have to be prepared.”
Similarly, Mariano said serving in the military is not as glamorous as some people think. The long hours and the separation from your family are hard, she said.
“But it’s for a greater purpose,” Mariano said, while four members of an Air Force honor guard stood behind her in full gear: blue uniforms, white gloves, freshly polished silver metal helmets with chin straps holding their heads high.
Several veterans were honored at Thursday’s event, including Herrera, the only living person to wear the U.S. Medal of Honor and Mexico’s Order of Military Merit, and another World War II hero, former 2nd Lt. John Newell III.
Herrera, who was a U.S. Army private first class, was fighting in Mertzwiller, France. While charging the enemy, his feet were blown off by a land mine, but he still managed to continue to pin down an enemy line.
For his heroism, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman in 1945.
“His one-man charge on an enemy stronghold resulted in his single-handed capture of eight enemy soldiers,” Wolf said as Herrera sat blushing in his chair, hands resting on his walker.
Newell shuffled past other veterans gathered around after a speech about Herrera.
“My respects to you,” Newell said, shaking Herrera’s hand firmly.
Newell fought in the Battle of the Bulge in France from December 1944 to January 1945 against Germany in its last offensive.
The 81-year-old Newell, who was also awarded several honors for his heroism, including the Bronze Star for ground combat, said he was only 19 when he first went to war.
“I know the horrors of war,” he said. “But receiving a medal is like the luck of the Irish, because there is heroism that goes on all over ... unrecognized.”