MATTOON -- Steve Hayes recited the oath members of the military take upon their inductions, saying they "signed a blank check to our country."

"Remember, that oath still stands. Amen?" he asked, getting a positive response from those who listened.

Hayes, pastor of First Christian Church in Mattoon and a Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion member, spoke Saturday during Mattoon's Veterans Day ceremony.

Following the city's annual Veterans Day parade, a crowd gathered at one of the veterans memorials at Peterson Park to hear Hayes and others speak about the holiday and its meaning.

"We are celebrating those who served with honor in the military and those who paid the ultimate price," Hayes said.

He listed the number of U.S. military deaths in wars starting with World War I, which ended on Nov. 11, 1918, and resulted in the Armistice Day holiday that later became Veterans Day.

He went on to list the casualties for wars through Afghanistan, Iraq and other more recent conflicts.

"Without your service, we would not be free," Hayes also said, adding that freedoms listed in the U.S. Constitution wouldn't be possible otherwise.

Those who signed the induction oath "sacrificed the days of your youth" in order to serve, he said.

He joked that some of the ceremony's regular participants were looking older and then acknowledged and thanked the younger veterans in the crowd.

The Mattoon ceremony was one of several that took place throughout the area and across the country Saturday.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Charleston conducted its annual ceremony at one of the war memorials on the Coles County Courthouse grounds.

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