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A Call to Honor Our Heroes

The remains of seven Lewis County veterans, each placed into a skillfully crafted red oak box, were put to rest at the Tahoma National Cemetary.

The remains of seven Lewis County veterans, each placed into a skillfully crafted red oak box, put to rest at the Tahoma National Cemetery, Nov. 2011, in “Operation At Ease.”

This weekend popular parks will be filled to capacity, backyard barbecues in both the country and the city will be cleaned and readied for the start of the outdoor cooking season, picnic baskets will be packed, plans to gather with friends and family will be made.

But will we remember the fallen soldiers? I wonder.

Those that have lost loved ones — dear ones who died while defending home, country and their fellow soldiers — will be one my mind and in my heart this Memorial Day weekend. I hope they will also be in yours.

(NOTE: the following commentary was originally written in November of 2011 in honor of the beloved veterans I have had the privilege of meeting in my work as a weekend reporter for The Chronicle. I love them so.)

With each story I find myself falling in love with a new veteran, a veterans’ group or the loved one of a veteran who is gone, but definitely not forgotten.

On Nov. 5, I attended the Winlock Veteran’s Day Parade, where I briefly met Korean War veteran Larry Campbell, of Toledo. He was so handsome, waving to the crowd from the back of a M274 Mule, his beret set at a devilishly charming angle.

Korean War veteran Larry Campbell, Toledo, catches a prestigious ride in the back of a M274 Mule in the Veterans Day Parade in Winlock, 2011.

Korean War veteran Larry Campbell, Toledo, catches a prestigious ride in the back of a M274 Mule in the Veterans Day Parade in Winlock, 2011.

Then later, at the Olequa Senior Center, I watched as Navy veteran Arnold Knab (shown holding a camera in a photo featured in the Nov. 8 issue of The Chronicle) served pie to a roomful of veterans and family members.

There is no job too small and no task too daunting to our American veterans, a fact that makes my heart swell with pride.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, I had the honor of interviewing Glenn Thompson, WWII veteran and a life-long resident of Toledo. I had met Thompson at a tractor pull in 2010, while he watched his grandson compete. We hadn’t talked for very long before I knew that this was a man I wanted to interview. He had a story and I wanted to be the one to tell it.

There is more depth to Thompson’s story than I was able to convey in my short article (Nov. 10). I walked away from that interview knowing that he had given me a bigger gift than I could ever give him as I put pen to paper to tell his story.

I was inspired by the depth of love he has for his country and his family, inspired by his adventurous spirit, and inspired by his years of service to the land he cherishes.

He has cried tears of regret over heavy losses and he has celebrated many victories in his 87 years. Thompson has been a soldier, a logger, farmer, rancher, school bus driver, and a husband and a father. No job has been too small for Mr. Thompson to tackle, and no task too daunting.

Friday afternoon I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Veterans Wall of Honor in Toledo. There I met Ann Holland, wife of Air Force Tech Sgt. Melvin Arnold Holland, a man who was sent to serve our country in Vietnam and never came home. Ann’s story is one so full of intrigue, heartache and strength that I know I will never forget it.

And then there’s the Toledo Lions Club, they are the strength and will that stand behind the building of the Wall of Honor. They have contributed so much to the community of Toledo over the years. And for them, it seems, no job is too small, no task is too daunting.

Army National Guardsman performs the presentation of the flag to Sherry Wright, of Stockton, Calif., sister to Allen Wright, a former Centralia resident and Vietnam War Veteran, serving in the United States Army, 1962-65. The cremated remains of Wright and six other veterans were laid to rest in the Tahoma National Cemetary in Kent, Nov. 2011.

Army National Guardsman performs the presentation of the flag to Sherry Wright, of Stockton, Calif., sister to Allen Wright, a former Centralia resident and Vietnam War Veteran, serving in the United States Army, 1962-65. The cremated remains of Wright and six other veterans were laid to rest in the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, Nov. 2011.

And then Saturday, riding in the caravan of Operation: At Ease … I am still struggling to find the words that will portray the moment of that beautiful day. Patty Kaija said it best, I think, when she said it is moments like this “that take your breath away and leave you humbled by the sacrifice of those who serve our country.”

Lewis County Marine Corps League at “Operation At Ease,” Tahoma National Cemetery, Nov. 2011.

It was on that day — a day filled to the brim with people and events that call to your heart — that I found another new love, the Lewis County Marine Corps League.

Again and again, during the ceremony at Tahoma National Cemetery, my eyes were drawn to handsome and proud group of red-clad men and women, standing together as one. Looking at them, I know that for our veterans, no job is too small and no task is too daunting. You can see it in their eyes and in the set of their shoulders.

On Sunday I celebrated a victory with my friend and Navy veteran, Ken Cheney of Mossyrock. After four months of worry and pain, doctor’s visits and surgeries, Ken has been pronounced cancer free.

Ken joined the Navy in 1955, when he was just 16 years old. His father helped him “doctor up” his birth certificate so he could join.

“Every time I go to the VA, I still have to stop and think for a minute what year I was born in,” he said with a wink and a twinkle in his eye.

It’s veterans like Ken and Glenn, groups like the Toledo Lions Club and the Marine Corps League, and women like Ann that make me want to start a new campaign to make the entire month of November a celebration of our veterans.

These fine men and women deserve more than just one day a year, because for them, no job is too small and no task too daunting.

Tahoma National Cemetery, Kent, WA

About Kimberly Mason

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer, photojournalist, and web designer. When she's not out chasing a story, you'll find her at work in one her three main offices — her big backyard, the Cowlitz River, or the recliner in her living room. She has four grown children, three grandchildren, and is owned by a Labrador retriever, Buddy the WonderDog.

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