Retired Lt. Commander Philip Verhalen’s naval career meant spending a lot of time on ships far away from where he grew up.

Letters from home things he and his colleagues appreciated, and today he still says providing a connection to home via email, letters and phone calls is one of the best ways the public can support those in active duty.

“Receiving mail was the most important morale booster when we were away from home,” Verhalen said. “So many of our military people today are serving their nation far from their homes. Today’s service people often can receive email or text when they are deployed, even on board ships. If you can, communicate with someone who’s serving on active duty in the military by email or by writing a letter or with a phone call.”

Verhalen is a U.S. Navy veteran who grew up in Scottsdale. He attended Marshall and Shreveport schools before going to the U.S. Naval Academy and Southwest Texas State College, earning master’s degrees in chemistry and international relations.

Verhalen was on active duty for 20 years before teaching at Panola College for 12 years. He now operates P.J.’s Flying Service at the Panola County Airport.

While giving the keynote speech Thursday at Panola College, Verhalen recalled several active servicemen and servicewomen, as well as veterans he knew and read about from wars going back to the Civil War. Verhalen told the audience he knew many of them didn’t know these veterans, but the larger point was that they do know someone who’s serving or served in the military.

“These people and many more, and these events, are why we are here today,” he said. “We are here to remember those who served our nation and to thank those who are serving today. Some serve in Syria and some serve in Houston, still helping to clean up after the latest hurricane. These military people, active duty, reserve, national guard, have made a commitment to protect our country just like so many have done before them.”

He also asked those gathered Thursday to remember to thank veterans who have served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and more.

“Find someone who served,” he said. “Let them know you appreciate what they did. Many have come back wounded. Sometimes you have to put flowers on a grave to remember those who served. Many who’ve served have passed on. Not everyone comes back alive from wars. It’s especially important to remember on Veterans Day those who sacrificed so we can live freely in these United States.”

He also encouraged the young Panola College students hosting the dinner to think about how they’ll serve their country.

“Will you serve in the military?” he said. “Will you perform some other type of government service? Will you perform service in the education system of our great country? Will you work at farming or in the service industry? Every job well done is important. What can you, you young people, do for this United States?”


Carthage native Meredith Shamburger has worked for the Panola Watchman since 2018. Before that, she worked at sister papers in Longview and Marshall; the Dallas Morning News; and The Daily Voice, a hyperlocal news company in Westchester County, New York.