The largest Memorial Day crowd in Hood River’s recent history gathered at Idlewild Cemetery Monday to honor the nation’s fallen war heroes.
Brightly colored flags and floral wreaths created a sharp contrast with the mercurial weather and the somber mood that was reflected in the faces of between 200-300 citizens in attendance. Soloist Anita Decker moved many audience members to tears with her a capella performance of the National Anthem.
“This ceremony is dedicated to those who offered their lives that freedom, justice and democracy might endure forever,” said keynote speaker Rodger Schock. “These folks gave their lives so that we can raise our kids in an environment where they can practice their religion, say what they think and lead the good life that we all know.”
Standing at attention throughout the 90-minute event were members of the Veteran and Auxiliary Color Guard and Oregon National Honor Guard, which fired rifles in a finale salute.
“This has been a very, very difficult year for America, for citizens in and out of uniform,” said chaplain Dennis Leonard during a benediction that included the brief reference to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast. Leonard also recited the poem “Just a Common Soldier” during his invocation that spoke of the courage shouldered without fanfare by the average citizen who was called to fight for his or her nation.
The American flag snapped in a brisk breeze above the first-ever mixed chorus which took the risers set up around the Veterans Statute to sing seven patriotic songs. The Friends and Neighbors choir — named after the header in past draft notices — was formed by Schock and led by Judy Ferguson, choir director of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Hood River.
“Take a good look at this choir because they represent you, they are people from all walks of life, from all practices of faith,” Schock told the crowd before leaving the podium to add his voice to the 70-member group. The patriotic performance was underscored with a dramatic flyover by the Oregon Air National Guard, a visual reminder of the vigilant military forces at work to defend the nation against further tragedy on its shores.
During the May 27 ceremony, 11 more bronze plaques were added to the “Walk of Honor,” which lines the path to the Veterans Statute. Last year, Schock laid the first 11 markers for service men and women who have been cremated and do not have testimonials elsewhere.
Poppy wreaths — the red flower symbolizing blood spilled on the battlefield — were placed on these plaques and in front of white crosses that represented the many men and women who had died in service to their country.
Schock asked the crowd to show their respect for that sacrifice with a moment of silence.
“This is a time to think about why your sons and daughters and other family members who are lying under flags have done what they have done,” he said.
Schock called for a round of applause for veterans standing in the crowd and for parents of children who were currently on a tour of duty with the United States military.
“You have our heartfelt thanks,” Schock said.