BLOOMINGTON — Across the country and across Bloomington-Normal, people gathered at Veterans Day ceremonies to honor those who have served and are serving our country.

In downtown Bloomington, about 200 people gathered on the east side of the McLean County Museum of History, site of the refurbished World War II memorial. Many wore caps or jackets indicating the branch or the era in which they served.

Staff Sgt. Kyle Combs, a member of the Illinois Army National Guard who has been deployed multiple times to Afghanistan and Iraq, was the keynote speaker.

“I hope your heart beats a little faster for the joy and excitement of what freedom means to us,” he said shortly after the playing of the national anthem.

Combs, who grew up in Atlanta and lives in rural Danvers, said he was inspired to enlist in after the 9/11 attacks.

“It's moments like 9/11 which bring people together,” he said. “Ordinary people came together to help each other.”

Combs said he wears his uniform “for those who served before me and beside me” and added, “I'm grateful to serve in a time when Americans appreciate what veterans do.”

Noting that more than 7,400 American military personnel have lost their lives since 9/11 and that U.S. forces continue to be in harm's way, Combs said, “We can't take our eyes off the ball.”

But he also emphasized, “Make no mistake, the United States is still incredibly strong.”

At Illinois State University, where more than 80 faculty and staff members and more than 400 students are veterans, retired Army Ranger John Collett was the guest speaker.

Collett related his experiences on a mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 that became the basis for the movie “Blackhawk Down” and for which Collett received a Bronze Star for valor and heroism.

“Your training kicks in,” Collett said. “You do the best you can do.”

Collett, who was medically retired in 2000 after breaking his back in a parachute jump, continues to live by the Ranger creed of leaving no one behind by helping fellow veterans through the Three Rangers Foundation, of which he is president.

"Service to your country — there's nothing like it," Collett told ROTC cadets, who led the program. "Nothing you're going to do is impossible. Just take it one day at a time."

ISU President Larry Dietz said thanking veterans is “something all of us should do each and every day.”

Dietz said the university's support for the military goes back to its roots: Its first president, Charles Hovey, resigned to fight in the Civil War.

The university learned this week that it has retained its designation as a “military friendly school” from Victory Media, publisher of G.I. Jobs, STEM Jobs SM and Military Spouse. Dietz said only 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools nationwide receive the designation.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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