A large crowd gathered at the Highland Fire Department to witness two Sharp County residents -- Richard Manning and George McCants -- receive some of the highest military honors achievable.
Lieutenant Colonel Steve Gray, State Veterans Military Liaison for U.S. Senator John Boozman, discussed the historical significance of all wars, from World War 1 to the current war in Afghanistan.
Manning was the first to receive his honors. Manning was born in Jonesboro in 1925, when the nation was still recovering from World War 1. In 1944, he left his job as a truck driver and entered the United States Army, at the age of 18.
A few months later, Manning would join troops involved in the largest landing in U.S. history on the beaches of Normandy, France. After completing Basic Training, Manning's unit shipped out from Massachusetts. In February 1945, the Onaway Division knocked out vital enemy positions in Germany. Known as "The River Jumpers," Manning's unit crossed 20 rivers and captured 33,000 enemies in a 400-mile area in just 50 days.
During Manning's last five months of service, the war became ferocious, as the German's were fighting on their own soil.
Days before the end of the war, Manning was hit by enemy fire, one of the reasons for his being honored, nearly 70 years after serving in the military.
Manning, who stepped before the crowd with the aid of a walker, flashed a bright smile as he was presented the World War II Victory Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Stars for each of the battles in which he fought, The Good Conduct Medal, The Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for meritorious service.
Gray explained each medal is personally engraved for the soldier who earned them. The Purple Heart, sanctioned by George Washington in 1792, is the most recognized military honor in the world.
It was resurrected in 1932 by General MacArthur to signify that a soldier had been wounded or killed in action.
Manning took an opportunity to explain some of his experiences while serving in the Army during such a tumultuous time in U.S. history.
McCants' service to his country began when the Oklahoma native entered the Army in 1943, at the age of 18, as World War II was raging on two fronts overseas following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. McCants trained in Kentucky and at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
After arriving in Wales in April of 1944, he and his unit crossed the channel into France only a month later.
In December of the same year, the German army charged into Belgium with 200,000 troops, dimming the young servicemen's hopes of being home to spend Christmas with their families.
In the early morning hours of January 15, 1945, McCants' unit was pinned down and took heavy causalities. McCants was wounded by enemy fire during the attack. McCants was recognized for his meritorious service with the Bronze Star.
"There were 187 men with me, and only 33 men survived, including myself, after I got shot in the shoulder by an enemy sniper," McCants said. "Airborne lost a lot of men that day."
He explained he was trained to kill, but said it never gets easier, explaining the time he nearly killed his late wife, having her in a chokehold, following a bad dream about service. "I didn't go back to bed that night," he said.
McCants was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, the European African Campaign Bronze Star of Services for three campaigns he fought in, The American Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal for efficiency, honor and fidelity, the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered, the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry badge.