Although gray-haired and less nimble than they once were, not many United States military veterans could resist the dance floor Sunday evening at the Dole Institute of Politics' Veterans Day tribute and gala event.
Up to 300 veterans, ROTC cadets and family members crammed into the narrow exhibit hall for the celebration, which featured a salute to former service members and World War II-era music from the Moonlight Serenade Orchestra.
With patriotic bunting lining the hall, red and blue balloons hanging every which way and the music going, the event was reminiscent of the kind of entertainment soldiers were provided during the last global war. Barbara Ballard, associate director of outreach at the Dole Institute, said it was the largest turnout in the event's six-year history.
Before the dance floor opened, guests watched a tribute to veterans. The National Anthem and Taps were played, and tributes were paid by Dole Institute administrators and three cadets of Kansas University's ROTC program — Cadet Stuart McConnell, Cadet Madeline Ulloa and Officer Candidate Kuran Bricker, of the Army, Air Force and Naval ROTC, respectively.
McConnell, the son and grandson of veterans, said he decided to join the program after realizing how many individuals he respected at his hometown church in Newton were former service members.
"To me it was the characteristics of service and responsibility that I saw in veterans, which compelled me to follow in the their footsteps," McConnell said. "When I think of veterans today, I think of continuity — continuity between members of the military, passed down from person to person."
Bill Lacy, director of the Dole Institute, also provided an update on the building's namesake: former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a Kansas native and World War II veteran.
"He is frail, but mentally he's very sharp," Lacy said of Dole, who is now 90 years old.
"Thanks to all of you for coming. God bless America," concluded a message from Dole, which Lacy read to the gathering.
Following the ceremony's closing remarks, the veterans in the room stood to receive a salute from 24 KU ROTC members.
And once the music began, it didn't take long for couples to hit the dance floor.
"We love to dance," said Claude Kean, a 1958 KU ROTC alumnus, as he headed for a whirl.