"We owe all of these military personnel a debt we can never fully repay,” St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said.
It was also a deactivation ceremony for the Missouri Department of American Ex-Prisoners of War, which represents World War II POWs. Their flags, records and legacy will now become a part of the POW-MIA Museum, the chapter deactivated but not forgotten. Only a handful of members remain in the region. Those who could show up came for one final salute.
"The museum will continue to live on even though the World War II guys are in their 90s. I'm 76, so I'll soon be at short end of the stick and the museum will carry on," said Col. John Clark, who was shot down over North Vietnam and was a POW for six years.
Also speaking at the Friday ceremony was Rocky Sicmann, one of the Marine guards held hostage for 444 days when the U.S. embassy was invaded in Iran. He fears some Americans have forgotten about the flag and the freedom it represents.
"You don't know how good it is until your life is stripped of it. The day of November 4, 1979, 52 men and woman were stripped of their freedom, their dignity, and their pride," Sickmann said.
That's why one father, with no military connection, brought his two young sons to the ceremony.
"I don't think these guys get an opportunity to hear the sacrifices and the stories that gave them the country they have today," said Scott Hardeman.