“We honor the dead by helping the living,” said Bob Beck commander of the Creswell VFW during Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony.

Willamette Leadership Academy

Veterans look onward during the Springfield ceremony.

The 73rd annual Memorial Day Ceremony was hosted by the Springfield American Legion Post #40 and the City of Springfield. The ceremony featured speeches by members of the American Legion, Mayor Sean VanGordon, and Springfield Police Chief Andrew Shearer.

Paying tribute in Creswell

Frieda Pearson, left, past president of the Springfield Emblem Club, pays her respect to the fallen.

Melinda Preciado of Springfield

During the 73rd annual Memorial Day Ceremony, equal parts pride and sorrow radiated from the center of each audience members’ chests, as they honored their country and those they’ve lost protecting it. 

Hosted by the Springfield American Legion Post #40 and the City of Springfield, the ceremony drew dozens of community members feeling that same palpable grief experienced by Pearson.

Post #40 Commander Nick Gillaspie reflected on that grief at the Williamlane Veterans Plaza while delivering the history of the holiday to the crowd.

“It’s not just about the dead, but also about those who are left behind: wives who lost husbands, husbands who lost wives, sons and daughters who lost parents. It’s about remembering the tremendous sacrifices made by all,” Gillaspie said.

Andrew Shearer momentarily dropped the austere demeanor required of a police chief, and in a vulnerable and personable speech to his community, told the audience how he came to appreciate the sacrifices made for our country.

“As a young boy I grew up with a deep respect for all those who served in the armed forces,” Shearer said, as he cleared his throat with a quiver in his speech, remembering his father who served in the United States Navy in the 1960s and his grandfather, who served in the United States Army in World War II. 

“As a kid I was enamored with the heroism and the bravery I read about and saw in the movies. I was drawn to the sense of camaraderie that existed among those soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen and marines who faced our enemies in faraway places like the islands in the South Pacific or the jungles of Vietnam,” Shearer said.

“But at that age, what I didn’t really understand with the horrors of battle, or understand the sacrifices that have been made by those men — more importantly, by those who never returned home,” he said. 

Drawing parallels to his own experiences, Shearer said that entering into law enforcement gave him that sense of the camaraderie and the excitement that comes with successfully facing dangerous situations. 

“But unfortunately, I also face the harsh reality of the profession and experience a loss of brothers and sisters killed in the line of duty – brave souls who gave lives for something greater than themselves,” Shearer said. “It was during those formative years of my early adulthood when my appreciation for our fallen military veterans had become cemented in my thoughts. I began to understand their tremendous sacrifice. I came to the realization that we owe everything we have as Americans – everything – to those almost one million men and women since the Revolutionary War who have died protecting our freedoms and the way of life we enjoy and hold dear.”

Springfield Mayor Sean VanGordon delivered a message of community unity and support for military families. He also spoke to the present-day hardships threatening the social contract that binds us all in our American way of life: the Robb Elementary School mass shooting in Texas, the grocery shore mass shooting in New York, the war in Ukraine, the effects of inflation — all occurring in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

“History tells us that hard times will pass, and that decency, kindness, compassion and service still matter. Regardless of party, economics, religion, race, we are all part of one American family,” VanGordon said.

With military vehicles stationed on the corners of the park, Springfield Elks members stood tall in place with flags, and Chris Rhoades, youth pastor at Grace Baptist Church, delivered an opening prayer. Boy Scout Troop 179 helped set up the event, and students from Willamette Leadership Academy posted the flag as the crowd stood still, with their hand plastered to their chests. Orion Van Buskirk, Marist High School student, Eagle Scout, and participant in an upcoming American Legions Boys State competition, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Similar scenes could be seen elsewhere in the valley. Flag services were held at Mt. Vernon Cemetery, Springfield Memorial Gardens and at the Springfield VFW Post, and the Springfield Kiwanis posted flags around downtown. 

In Creswell, the community gathered around a flag at half-mast at the Veterans Memorial on 1st Street to tip their caps and salute the fallen.  

Members of the Creswell Auxiliary passed out red paper poppies and spent the morning marking each veteran’s grave in the Creswell Cemetery with a small American flag, followed by a three-gun-salute. 

In Cottage Grove, the American Legion and VFW held their traditional ceremony at the Cottage Grove Armory, followed by a Memorial March to the Main Street Bridge, where a wreath-laying ceremony was held. Veterans sold red poppies at the entrances of local stores throughout the week to support veterans in the community. 

Ryleigh Norgrove contributed to this report.