November 11, 2023 -- The City of Houston, in collaboration with the Mayor's Office of Veterans and Military Affairs, held its annual Veterans Day ceremony at City Hall today. Despite the cancellation of the parade, due to inclement weather, the ceremony drew a substantial turnout of elected officials, military personnel, family members, and guests.
The theme for this year's ceremony, "Recognition to the Female Veterans," marked the 75th anniversary of President Harry S. Truman signing the Women's Armed Services Integration Act.
The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Quindola Crowley, Lt. Colonel, Army, Retired. Dr. Crowley, the spouse, mother, daughter and sister of military, emphasized the crucial role of female veterans and their contributions to the armed forces.
The ceremony also featured a moment of silence at 11 a.m., marking the end of World War I with an armistice signed at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918.
During the ceremony, Mayor Turner highlighted Col. Joe McPhail,USMC/Ret.-WWII & Korea-Corsair Fighter Pilot and the late Staff Sergeant Fred Douglas Witchet.
Mayor Turner presented Colonel Joe McPhail (in his absence) and posthumously, Staff Sergeant Witchet (accepted by Mrs. Naomi Witchet, widow of Staff Sergeant Fred Witchet) with keys to the city.
Colonel Joe McPhail, a World War II and Korea veteran, at 102 is the oldest surviving Fighter Pilot in the United States. Colonel McPhail's remarkable service included over 240 combat missions and two Air to Air victories and his awards include a Distinguished Flying Crosses - 2nd Award and Air Medals - 11th Award.
Staff Sergeant Fred Douglas Witchet, a distinguished veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, earned both the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his exemplary service.
Staff Sergeant Witchet, despite his service, was denied the right to burial in 1965 at the Houston National Cemetery. He is buried at Paradise North Cemetery, driven by the fact that he was denied burial at the Houston National Cemetery for so long.
"It took two years of correspondence for the government to relent and offer to move him,” says the Witchet family. “Why should our family have had to beg to have a fallen soldier, who earned the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, burial in the Houston National cemetery? Why should he ever have been denied the honor in the first place?"
Mayor Turner and Mrs. Naomi Witchet, the widow of Staff Sergeant Witchet, shared a poignant moment during the ceremony. He presented Mrs. Witchet with the key to the city, declared November 11, 2023 Staff Sergeant Fred Douglas Witchet Day and expressed gratitude for Staff Sergeant Witchet's service, courage, and sacrifice.
"Staff Sergeant Witchet fought with honor and distinction, representing the values of freedom and democracy. His denied burial at the Houston National Cemetery was an injustice,” said Mayor Turner. “Today, 58 years later, the City of Houston reaffirms his right to be buried at the Houston National Cemetery and recognize his service and significant contributions to us all."