Across the Southern Willamette Valley, as storm clouds gathered, and blustery winds kicked up the fall foliage, communities gathered last week to honor the service of military men and women.
In Cottage Grove, the historic armory building was the backdrop for a touching and thoughtful ceremony celebrating our veterans. The Cottage Grove VFW presented the flags and the Lincoln Middle School choir sang the national anthem – while veterans in attendance stood in salute.
“Today, we make an effort to pay homage to those that are currently serving or who have served,” said Kenneth Hunt, Cottage Grove VFW commander. “Veterans Day is an important day, set aside to honor and show appreciation to all those who have served in the United States military in wartime or peacetime, living or deceased. We can’t all be heroes, someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.”
Jeff Gowing, Cottage Grove mayor, read lyrics from “Ragged Old Flag,” a Johnny Cash standard celebrating the bravery of men and women in uniform.
“On second thought, I do like to brag,” he read, “’Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.”
Tom Monroe, Former Cottage Grove mayor, said that “Since I got out of service, I’ve been wondering how many eons is it gonna take for all these nations to realize we’re only on this rock for a little while,” he said. “We need to learn to get along.”
With a wall of portraits illustrating their days in the service, veterans brought their families to the Springfield VFW luncheon and reflected on their time spent serving their country.
Vietnam Air Force veteran Rocky Trotter, 67, of Springfield, stopped by the hall for dinner after riding his motorcycle with 400 other cyclists at the Veterans Day Memorial Parade in Albany earlier that day – a tradition of his for some time.
Roger Piper, 88, of Springfield, spent his 16th birthday overseas in Korea, where he could hear “gunfire in the hills.” Too young to serve, in a letter from his mother addressed to his commander, she asked for his return. Piper was honorably discharged after eight months and six days — something that Piper still chokes up about to this day. As soon as he could, he enlisted in February 1951 and served until April 1953. A month after his return, he married his sweetheart, later growing his family to include five children.
In Pleasant Hill, the high school gym was jam packed with students, staff and veterans during the Veterans Day ceremony.
The ceremony featured a variety of guest speakers, including Gary Johnsen, airborne rangeshand artillery officer for the U.S. Army who shared a story about training a wild horse named Saprtacus at West Point in 1974.
Rebecca Peasle, 2018 PHHS graduate and Naval academy graduate, who serves in the Marine Corp, also shared virtually.
“Having the privilege to have the Marine Corps uniform is not something I take lightly. It’s something I work hard and try to earn every day,” she said. “This is different to everyone; whether that’s through work ethic, compassion for people around you, courage or all of the above. But the only thing every military member ever has in common is their honor.
“You can always read more books, shave a few seconds off a run, study harder, eat healthier and all of these things are great. But honestly, they mean nothing if you lack character.”
Local Rosie the Riveters Dolly Marshall, Florence Rexroad and Doris Key were also honored for their service in trades during World War II. Yvonne Fasold, whose mother was a welder on liberty ships in Tacoma, Wash. spoke to the six million women who entered the workforce during the early ‘40s.
“I’m very honored to have the veterans here and that this school understands the importance of this – to honor their sacrifice,” said Tim Meinzen, PHHS publications teacher and organizer of the event.
“The military does a lot for people … I think some people confuse it with just like a tribal identity: that those are our soldiers … it’s not only that they are our soldiers but they are people who’ve given up so much of their lives to keep the rest of us secure” he said.
In Creswell, despite the cold, local veterans and community members gathered around the veterans memorial on 1st St. for their ceremony.
“On this day we give thanks to all who have worn the uniform that served this country so proudly. Our freedom, our right to vote and to pray to whatever God we have wanted has been protected by our veterans,” said Camren Baker, Creswell VFW post commander.
“Let us never forget the price that has been paid and the gratitude that our nation owes its veterans … They never gave up on us and we cannot give up on them,” he said.
VFW vice president, Bob Beck, spoke in honor of prisoners of war and those gone missing.
“Service means sacrifice, even if that sacrifice is one’s own life … But we can ensure that those who make that choice and make the ultimate sacrifice can rest knowing that they serve with the thanks of grateful citizens and that they will not be forgotten.”
For some community members, the ceremony was a family affair.
Leslie Kleman, Creswell resident and mother of six, brought the whole crew out to watch.
“I thought it was important to teach them about veterans and what that means. Generationally, people are not doing that as much– as you can see there aren’t a lot of young people here today. It’s important to me to teach them to honor the people who have served their country to be a part of our community” she said.
Nicholas Pierron was also among the youngsters to attend, handing out flags to attendees to wave during the ceremony. Nicholas’ mother, Jeanna Pierron is a local VFW auxiliary member.
“This is super important, and we try our best. We’ve got to remember these guys. We’ve got to honor them,” she said.
Larissa Garcia, Ryleigh Norgrove and Erin Tierney-Heggenstaller contributed to this report.