It doesn’t matter what position veterans held in the military, the American Legion honors all those who served. That was the message Wednesday at the organization’s annual Veterans Day ceremony at the Vietnam War Memorial inside Bozeman’s Sunset Hills Cemetery.

Though temperatures were below freezing, a few dozen people gathered at the memorial to pay their respects and thank veterans for their service. Veterans from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps wore hats or satin jackets showing which branch of the military they served.

Len Albright, zone commander for Bozeman’s American Legion, said he’s heard from veterans who worked as cooks, administrative clerks and truck drivers, among others. They say they aren’t true veterans because of the jobs they did, he said.

“I tell them that in all the branches, we all worked for the same cause — a successful mission,” Albright said.

The American Legion recently worked with Congress to allow certain veterans to join organizations like the legion. Congress now recognizes veterans who served from 1941 onward and allowed thousands of veterans to access the organization’s programs and benefits, according to an American Legion news release.

“Each and every veteran plays an equal part in completing the overall mission: serve and protect America from all enemies, both foreign and domestic,” Albright said.

After Albright’s speech, several planes flown by local veterans flew over the ceremony.

Larry Kiff, a local singer, performed the National Anthem to kick off the ceremony, followed by a moment of silence for fallen veterans. Melissa Smith of the American Legion Honor Guard played “Taps” on a bugle horn after the honor guard’s three-volley salute.

Randy Jones, Gallatin County Sheriff’s chaplain, gave a closing prayer and thanked veterans for their service. He said veterans need more than recognition.

“They have needs — physical, emotional and spiritual. So we ask you to watch over their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their family — meet their deepest needs,” Jones said.

Steve Gardner served in the Navy in Vietnam from 1970 to 1973. He recently heard a statistic that veterans are 3% of the nation’s population. Gardner said that meant that 97% of the population owed their freedom to that small percentage.

“We just have to keep all this in the forefront so people don’t forget. That’s really the main thing,” Gardner said.

Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.

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