Sarah McKernan, the president’s executive assistant, will be celebrating this Veteran’s Day in its founding city of Emporia after years of military service in the Army Reserves, where she served in Saudi Arabia in 1991.
One of the moments she holds most dear is the memory of coming home.
“(We) were all coming down the steps from the plane onto the air pad and all of our loved ones were lined up,” McKernan said. “We were all in our uniforms and we were walking towards the hanger, where we were supposed to go first...Then we were marching single file into the hanger and I could hear my mom’s voice yelling my name.”
This moment is the one that sticks out most to McKernan.
“She grabbed me before we could even get into the hanger,” McKernan said. “She...wrapped her arms around me and I remember giving her a hug and she just held me.”
McKernan was in the Army reserves from 1989-1997. In 1990 her unit was activated after Iraq invaded Kuwait, and they were sent to Saudi Arabia until May of 1991.
Between her unit being activated and being mobilized, McKernan was able to participate in Emporia’s Veteran’s Day Parade.
“(It) was almost surreal,” McKernan said. “There were a few of us that they asked to march in the parade and...that was a very proud moment. To just know that we are representing our country, our unit...publicly, in that venue of the Veteran’s Day parade. That was pretty awesome.”
Before she and Bill McKernan, her husband and assistant director of facilites, administration and building services, were married, they dated at the beginning of her time in the military, including the time she spent in active duty.
But because of the lack of technology, it was hard for them to stay in contact.
“Like I said, it was difficult in that time, not knowing,” Bill McKernan said. “You hear Iraq just launched five missiles and you know where they’re impacting. There wasn’t a way Bill McKernan also served in the Air Force and the Army.
“It’s kinda been neat to on both sides,” Bill McKernan said. “To be somebody who was with someone who was deployed and then actually being the person who deployed as well. Getting to see it from both sides is different from just one.”
Sarah McKernan said that growing up, she can remember her grandfather speaking about his time in the Navy.
“I can remember my Grandfather...speak of his time on the ship that he served on with his other fellow Navy servicemen,” Sarah McKernan said. “It was just a beautiful thing to listen to him reminisce and just think back to the time that he served with those guys.”
Veteran’s Day was officially named and founded in Emporia in 1953, according to visitemporia.com. It was later recognized by the country in 1954.
As an Emporia native, Sarah McKernan said that her experiences with Veteran’s Day before and after the military changed her view.
“I feel like I’ve always been pretty patriotic,” Sarah McKernan said. “But, obviously, it takes on a whole new meaning once you’ve served and experienced that level of comradery...All of the wonderful celebrations that Emporia does for our Veterans is just phenomenal.”