Veterans Day celebrations annually bring the Star & Stripes to the expected locations of courthouses and parade locations across the United States. Here in rural Missouri, this year’s salute to the military extended to the near-wilderness of Rocky Falls in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. National Park Service rangers joined Ozark Riverways Foundation volunteers and hikers there on Saturday, November 5 for the annual Veterans Walk.
Before beginning the five-mile Ozark Trail loop to the restored clearings of Stegall Mountain, the group of about 40 people stopped to touch the flag and remember loved ones who served. In the background, the waterfall roared over ancient volcanic rock. The scene was the best possible natural metaphor for how the best of each generation smooth over the jagged and broken parts of the world in hopes of ensuring a peaceful environment for others to enjoy.
“Our walk here today is to honor veterans,” said Dave Tobey, who led the flag ceremony. “I attended National Parks conferences last week, and one of the main things they talked about there was the use of our parks as a place of healing, just like this hike today. I’ve never walked a trail where I maybe had the whole world on my shoulders when I entered, but I didn’t feel any better when I left. That is our goal today. Hopefully there is some healing.”
Tobey is a volunteer with the Ozark Riverways Foundation, a retired National Park Ranger, and also a Vietnam Veteran. Unfurling an American flag in front of Rocky Falls, he said it was a personal item given to his family after the death of his father, who served in World War II.
“He survived that and came home,” Tobey said. “He dealt with it the rest of his life like a lot of veterans do, and he was pretty successful, but he had some problems because of that military service during World War II. God bless you.”
As Tobey stood next to Parks Superintendent Jason Lott, he invited others in attendance to touch the flag and share the names of veterans they love. His services in the military spanned from the early 20th century to those still in uniform. When he was done, park ranger Josh Chilton read aloud the meanings behind each of the 13 folds made as the flag was once again withdrawn.
Tobey noted that the Veterans Day Walk is the latest in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways series of fall hikes and just one of many opportunities the park offers veterans. He mentioned that a managed deer hunt is also coordinated annually for veterans in parks and Team River Runner also connects veterans with float trips.
“If you’re a veteran here and you want a paddle, all you have to do is give us a call,” Tobey said. “Call me and I’ll make sure we go to the river, you and me through Team River Runner. We have boats available for you. I’ll hook you up with that. We do all of those things to help veterans heal here in our park.”