Patriotism and humor blended in the Jan. 17 Hood River Chamber of Commerce Installation Banquet, where Rep. Greg Walden gave a detailed account of his experiences on Sept. 11.
He gave a frank yet optimistic view of national security in the wake of the east coast tragedies and ensuing military action in Afghanistan.
"The threat is still real," from terrorism, Walden (R-Hood River) told the audience of more than 200 people at Columbia Gorge Hotel. "With our new focus and laws, we are as secure as we are going to get."
"We have lost some people," Walden said, referring to the military casualties in Afghanistan. "We will probably lose some more. It is incumbent on us to remember how we keep our freedoms. Our country will be strong and safe."
Walden, who also spoke Thursday at Hood River Rotary and a Housing For People event in Odell (see page A1), described the confusion in the first hours after the jetliners struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11. Walden said he had called his wife, Mylene, to find underground shelter, as their apartment is just four blocks from the Pentagon.
After arranging for his staff to find safety in the basement of the Longworth building on Capitol Hill, Walden joined his House compatriots -- "against security advice" -- on the steps of the Capitol, where the group joined in a spontaneous singing of "God Bless America."
"Someone to my right just started singing and we all joined him," Walden recalled.
He joked that no security plan was in place for the "junior members" of the House.
"The House Speaker was whisked away, but the rest of us were left on our own," he said. "I always thought there must be some plan to take all of us to some swank location."
The Columbia Gorge Hotel was swank enough location for Thursday's festive installation.
The Waldens helped honor the new Chamber board of directors and the 2001 Chamber Member of the Year, in the red-white-and-blue decorated banquet room.
Chuck Hinman, general manager of Best Western Hood River Inn, said he was "overwhelmed and flabbergasted" at receiving the Member of the Year award.
"There are a lot of great community leaders in Hood River, and Hood River is a great town," Hinman said.
Presenting the honor was Kathy Alley, the 2001 Chamber president, who succeeded Jean Harmon. City manager Lynn Guenther, dressed as Uncle Sam, served as master of ceremonies. Les Schwab Tire Center won the prize for best decorated table. Alley and her husband, John, received best costume awards for their Stars-and-Stripes full-body wraps.
The theme of the banquet was "Fourth of July in January," and throughout the night speakers harkened to the tragedy of Sept. 11 and the need for the local and national economies to recover.
"It's going to be a great year," said Pat Graham, chamber president-elect. "It has to be, because last year was not that great."