While Staff Sgt. William Tharp's military career has had its difficult times, he remains thankful.
The annual Veterans Day Banquet was Monday evening at the Callaway Senior Center. Despite the cold and icy weather, numerous retired veterans, community members and elected officials were in attendance to show their respects on the holiday.
"It would have been nice to have had the weather we had (Sunday) so we could have a few more people here, but we have the chance to have a little camaraderie, visit and enjoy Veterans Day evening," said David Beaver, commander of the Fulton American Legion Kingdom Post 210.
A Fulton tradition since sometime around World War II, the banquet consisted of a Thanksgiving-style dinner, live music by Vonda Davis and an active duty guest speaker. About a month and a half ago, Beaver approached Tharp, an active duty member of the Missouri Army National Guard, with the offer to speak at this year's banquet, and he said Tharp "didn't say 'yes' but didn't say 'no.'"
"We used to only have turnouts (to the banquet) of about 30 people so we decided to start inviting active duty or recently retired individuals to speak," Beaver said. "The only requirement was that they live in Fulton or Callaway County."
Tharp considers Hannibal his home because he was raised there for the first 10 years of his life. He moved to Fulton with his mother and stepfather and said since moving to Fulton, he has lived in the same house since 1989.
"(Tharp's) just about as close to being a native Callawegian as you're going to get," Beaver said.
Beaver said he first met Tharp while he worked as a crossing guard at Bush Elementary after his retirement. When Tharp would bring his children to school, Beaver said the two of them would bond over their love for "old Ford cars."
Tharp works full time at the Missouri National Guard armory in Fulton as an information technology specialist. He has been married to his wife for 17 years and has three sons ages 20, 14 and 12.
"The biggest thing that I think is amazing is (Tharp's) a young man with a family that has been deployed three times. That's got to be tough to get on that plane or get in that boat, or whatever you do, and leave your children and wife. I wasn't married when I went to Vietnam; that's probably a good thing," Beaver said.
Tharp was deployed to Kosovo twice from 2001-04 and once to Afghanistan from 2009-10. During his speech, Tharp said his three deployments opened up his eyes to many harsh realities.
"Growing up in a small town, that's really all you see and know," Tharp said as he struggled to keep his composure.
He said, in his deployments to Kosovo, he was "lucky" to have not seen much combat. However, Tharp still struggles from his experiences from his 15-month deployment in Afghanistan.
"Fourth of July is not a happy holiday for me. I don't like fireworks, at all. Not even if I'm shooting them off," Tharp said.
He described coming home from combat as being "rough" as he readjusted to civilian life. Despite these difficult experiences, Tharp said he wouldn't trade them for anything in the world.
"I've spent 21 years (in the military) and I would definitely do it again," he professed with passion.
Tharp is set to retire from the Missouri Army National Guard in two years. He plans to move on to a civilian job. His current situation is one he's been striving toward for years, he said.
"I definitely didn't expect to come up here and have a little emotion, not at all, but I just want to thank all of you (veterans) for paving the road for me," Tharp said.