Active military and veterans honored at state fair

The roar of motorcycle engines greeted hundreds of active and retired members of the armed forces and their families at a state fair ceremony Sunday.

The ceremony was part of the fair's Military Appreciation Day. Established in 2010, the day allows members of the armed forces to attend the fair for free, while immediate family can get in for $1. At the beginning of the ceremony, dozens of motorcycles from groups including the Patriot Guard Riders and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association rolled into the fairgrounds' Mathewson Exhibition Center. Many of the riders sported insignia designating them as veterans of conflicts including the Vietnam War and Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. The riders filled the arena with engine noise before cutting their engines for the ceremony.

Both active-duty members of the armed forces and veterans said they were honored by the day's proceedings. Lt. Jeffrey Agnitch, a Missouri native currently serving in the Army, said it was a great honor to be in the same room as those who had already been deployed overseas and to hear some of their stories. Staff Sgt. Franklin Shirley, who was making his first trip to the fair, said he was very impressed by what he saw.

"All the civilians welcoming all the armed forces, it just brings so much pride into everything we do," Shirley said.

Leading the riders into the arena was Richard Schowengerdg, whose 20 years in the U.S. Army included two tours of duty in Vietnam. Schowengerdg said events like Sunday's allow him to pay back to current servicemembers and show them he cares.

At the climax of the afternoon's ceremonies, Gov. Jay Nixon presented Missouri native Gen. Frank Grass with the Conspicuous Service Medal, the state's highest military decoration. Grass is the chief of the National Guard Bureau and as such oversees all National Guard units nationwide and serves on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Prior to Nixon's presentation, Grass told the crowd he is always grateful to come back to Missouri from his official duties and read several medal citations for Missourians who served in conflicts from the Civil War to the war in Afghanistan.

Grass said he would display the state's award in his Pentagon office.