The Gathering Baptist Church is on a patriotic mission – to honor all former and retired members of the armed forces and first responders at a community appreciation service at 5 p.m. Sept. 8 in Blue Springs on the Plaza Heights campus, 1500 S.W. Clark Road.

The yearly salute to the armed forces at the Noland Road campus began in 1994 and has continued thanks to the all-out efforts of longtime church members David and Sandy Hunt. They took hold of organizing the annual tribute and refused to let go of the reins. David was in charge of arrangements and securing color guards from all branches of the armed forces; Sandy assisted him when needed. They were a team. And a good one.

In a recent interview with the Hunts and Conor Scholes, creative arts pastor at Plaza Heights, David recalls the first veterans' tribute at Noland Road Baptist was put together on short notice using church members. The patriotic service, he says, included one guardsman, one airman and David, in his Marine uniform.

“Then they played the national anthem.”

The next year, the service was better, David says, recalling he was given “a little more free rein.” So he decided to get some color guards committed. The following year he was able to get all military branches of the service to participate. Missing was a Navy color guard.

“Of all the years we have been doing this, I think I have only had two times where I had a full four-man color guard at one time and a two-man color guard,” says David, who served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War in the 29th Marine Division unit called the “Walking Dead.”

“We had the highest casualty rate of all Marine units that served in Vietnam,” he says. He retired as a master sergeant after 22 years of service.

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks changed the church's focus from just recognizing the armed forces to including first responders for their bravery.

Retired Independence police officer Thomas Wagstaff will be the guest speaker. He will tell his story about being shot in the head in 2017 while on a burglary call and living to tell about it after doctors gave him no chance to survive.

“The way I have it set up,” David explains, “is first responders will be in one group and do the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by several patriotic songs and possibly a video. After we do a salute to all the armed forces, a group will sing the national anthem and then move out of the sanctuary.”

What’s next is “Taps,” when individual police officers and firefighters walk down each corner aisle of the church with a police or fire wreath, David says, explaining that as “Taps” is played the lights will dim all the way down as he walks down the center aisle with a folded flag .

The community is invited to attend the service. The emphasis this year is on law enforcement. An ice cream social follows the program and a photo gallery of heroes will be on display inside Plaza Heights, which is hosting the event for the first time. Plaza Heights, though, has participated in the patriotic service the past two years.

“Every year we select the closest Sunday to 9/11 for the service,” says June Hunt.

June likes to observe those heroes attending, especially the older heroes who are so proud of their service. “You can see it as you watch them stand as the song of their military branch is played. And it is nice to recognize them and let them know we remember the sacrifices made for our country.”

God bless America!

Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.