Joseph Kyles, long-time director of Veterans Services, acknowledged the recognition of his service and added that "working with veterans was not like working at all because I loved it so much." (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

Among the Veterans Day-themed celebrations – private and public – for those who have served in the United States Armed Forces was the 17th Annual Military Appreciation Luncheon hosted by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.

Both mayors heaped praise on members of the military and their families.

“This annual event is a small way to publicly express our heartfelt thanks for the sacrifices you have made so all Americans can enjoy the safety and freedom of a democracy that is without equal,” said Strickland during the event held last Thursday.

“…You have willingly allowed yourself to be put in harm’s way…we are eternally grateful for your dedication and service.”

Mayor Harris expressed similar sentiments.

“It is my esteemed honor to pay tribute and recognize our veterans for the many sacrifices they have made and continue to make in the name of freedom at home and abroad,” he said. “Today we remember and honor our heroes, the brave service members and their families who have served our country, as well as those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for liberty’s protection.”

Highlighting the afternoon’s speeches and tributes was a special award presented to Joseph Kyles, director of Veterans Services for more than 16 years.

“I felt humbled to receive this award from both our mayors,” said Kyles. “I was director of Veterans’ Services for 16 years before retiring last year. It was my honor to serve veterans and their families all over Shelby County, especially the seniors and their loved ones. I appreciate being recognized in this way, but working with veterans was not like working at all because I loved it so much.”

The Military Appreciation Luncheon has become a highly anticipated, local tradition for veterans and their families since it was started by Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton in 2003.

“I remember when we first started,” Kyles commented, after the luncheon. “Mayor Wharton wanted to do something for all the veterans to mark Veterans Day, and he went to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton with the idea of doing something jointly, the city and county together. We started very small, but the event has grown over the years.

“Now, we are seeing 600 people in attendance. I am grateful to our mayors back there who got the luncheon started, and I appreciate our mayors today keeping this great tradition going in Shelby County. Our veterans deserve to be honored in this way.”