Guard plays lead role in Veteran’s Day ceremony

Hood River County will pay tribute to the Oregon Army National Guard personnel that are headed to Iraq at the Veterans’ Day ceremony on Tuesday.

The annual service to honor men and woman who have served in the military will take place at 11 a.m. at Overlook Memorial Park. The keynote speaker for the event will be Sgt. William Smith, a Guard recruiter from The Dalles. A flyover is also expected by the 142nd Fighter Interceptor Group from the Guard and members of the Hood River Armory will perform the rifle salute.

“The National Guard is America’s army, it is the oldest branch in the military and we have not only participated in every war but have been there to help in every natural disaster as well,” said Smith, who returned in January from a one-year tour of duty in the Middle East.

The moment will be especially poignant for the Trout Lake, Wash., resident because his 24-year-old son, David, is leaving for Iraq in early 2004 as part of the 81st Enhanced Infantry Brigade from Washington State. Smith also has a daughter, Joanna, 20, who is a private in the Washington Guard and his wife, Karen, is an Air Force veteran.

“It runs in our blood to fight for personal liberty in the world. The war for freedom never ends, America fights for it abroad and we argue for it in the policies that we make here — it is a timeless battle,” said Smith, who will also sing the National Anthem after addressing the topic of citizen responsibility.

Linda Adams, veterans’ service officer, said it seemed only fitting this year to focus on the historical role of the Guard. She said last week 12 Guard reservists from the Gorge joined 500-600 other members of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, on the journey to Baghdad. These men and women will be charged with surveying for possible threats to the infantry.

“A lot of people think of the National Guard as just ‘weekend warriors’ and I thought it was important to show how important they are to our national security,” said Adams, who will serve as the Mistress of Ceremonies. At Tuesday’s event, American Legion Post 22 Commander Dennis Leonard will present an “Eternal Light” memorial to honor individuals who have died while in the Armed Forces. Their symbolic final resting place will be marked by a helmet or cap hanging on a white cross with an open lamp burning at its base. Leonard said the ritual first began in World War I and was resurrected after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks sent a new wave of patriotism sweeping across the nation.

“These Americans believed it was their sacred duty to lay down their lives in the service of their country and for their fellow-men around the world. This tribute stands as an eternal flame to their service and the unbeatable spirit that has built this country,” said Leonard.

Another new feature in this year’s program will be the presentation of “Blue Star Mothers” banners to military parents by Legion Auxiliary President Leila Crapper. The tradition that began to promote patriotism in World War II has resurfaced in popularity during Operation Enduring Freedom. The red-border around the white background and solitary blue star in the center are hung by a gold cord in the front window of homes where a member of the family is on active duty. Crapper said the banners also depict two or three stars if the family has more than one person in the military.

Twenty-three new memorial bricks will be dedicated at the ceremony by Hood River City Manager Lynn Guenther. The new slabs have been personalized with either a veteran or civilian name and will replace blank cubes on the platform beneath the flags at the base of the park.

Pastor Dan Armstrong from the Hood River Valley Christian Church will lead the invocation and Hood River Middle School trumpeter Matt Winkle performs “Taps” to close the ceremony.

Prior to the official rites, a breakfast will be served to veterans and their families at the BPOE Elks Lodge in downtown Hood River. Legion members cook up the morning meal for $5 per adult and $3 for children age 12 and under. The Columbia Area Transit bus will provide free rides from the morning meal to the memorial observance.

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