Celebrating our veterans

It is humongous.

By Brad Mosher

World War II veteran, Eileen Blondo-Johnston. Citizen Photo by Brad Mosher

That is how retired Col. Bill Hatton described the American flag raised at the Werner Gourmet Meat Snacks facility on Third Street in Tillamook, Nov. 11.

That is also the way he views the response he has seen for Tillamook County veterans on Veterans Day.

Tillamook County’s veterans service officer made the rounds of each of the veteran’s events, over the weekend. He spoke at the 20th anniversary Veterans Day event at the Tillamook Air Museum, then at the Swiss Hall luncheon.

At the flag-raising, Friday afternoon, of an enormous 30 foot by 60 foot flag on a 134-foot flagpole, Hatton was there as a participant, one of almost two dozen veterans who helped to crank the flag into the sky.

He also was a speaker at the Veterans Day spaghetti dinner hosted by the Elks Lodge in downtown Tillamook Saturday evening.

“We had close to 400 people there this year,” Hatton said when he recounted the response he saw at the air museum. “We always pack the house. It is amazing how this community comes together and supports our veterans.”

The veteran lunches held by the Swiss Hall are very much appreciated, Hatton said, when he stopped by the Swiss Hall shortly after the museum event closed down.

Hatton knew he still had a busy afternoon ahead of him, helping raise a large flag.

“This flag is quite humongous. I mean a three-man party doesn’t raise a flag that big. It is going to be quite an event to get that flag hoisted,” he said with a chuckle.

When he got there, Hatton found out that he was going to be more than a three-man party hoisting the flag – he would be joined by almost two dozen other veterans.

“This is a momentous time. I don’t believe anywhere in history has a flag this big flown on a flagpole this tall. Never, Never has the glorious American flag flown so high,” announcer Bill Beck said, before calling a roster of veterans from every service and nearly every war to help hand-crank the flag up the flagpole.

According to Ken Werner, one of owners of the Tillamook-based business, which built the pole, said the idea came about because Werner wanted to show respect for the military. Still, the flagpole took awhile to get to get in to place.“We originally committed to purchasing the flagpole in May. It took a long time to get it,” Werner said.

The flagpole is built to last, he added.

“We built a rebar cage in the ground below the flagpole. There are eight anchor bolts that are about two inches in diameter and it’s a little over seven feet tall. The rebar cage goes close to 17 feet into the ground. We pumped about 35 yards of concrete into the ground,” he said.

Werner said he was surprised by the number of people who attended the flag-raising.

“I didn’t think our parking lot would fill up. I didn’t think it would even come close,” he said, chuckling. “It did and we had to park people out on the street.”

Werner admitted he was playing it by ear when it came to raising the flagpole and organizing the ceremony. “I had never raised a flag that was this size. I wasn’t sure what to do, so we did what we thought we had to do.”

The job is not yet completed, Werner added. Now, he has a goal of building a memorial at the base of the flagpole to honor Tillamook County military who gave their lives for the country.

“Between now and Memorial Day, we want to try to identify every Tillamook County resident, whoever lost their lives in a conflict. We will put a memorial at the bottom of the pole. We would like to have plaques that identify each person,” he said.

Werner’s goal is to have the project and memorial complete by Memorial Day.

Currently, Hatton is searching through records to identify those service members killed in armed conflicts, Werner said.

He also wanted to thank the local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (#2848) for the assistance they provided. “We couldn’t have done it without them. I am proud that the veterans who were here could help us raise our flag. I couldn’t have been prouder of them.”

Four of the veterans attending the flag-raising were veterans from World War II – Eileen Blondo-Johnston, Carl Schonbrod, Rudy Fenk and Brownlee Bush.

Museum filled
Senior Master Sergeant Judy Riggs of Garibaldi was one of the keynote speakers at the event. “She is affectionately known in our community as ‘G.I. Judy,’” Hatton said when he introduced her Friday morning at the Air Museum. “She’s done tremendous service to our country.”

According to Briggs, who is Garibaldi’s postmaster, veterans are a united brotherhood and sisterhood most people do not understand. She joined the Oregon Air National Guard in 1977.

The military is a family affair for Riggs. She is the daughter of a former brigadier general in the Air Force and her son also served in uniform. “My son went into the same unit as me and he always used to cringe when I’d go ‘Oh, there’s my son.’

“He’d go ‘Oh, mom,’” she added with a chuckle.

Riggs proudly told the audience she took the oath of service eight times. “Seven out of the eight times, my dad was there to administer the oath,” said. He also administered the oath to his grandson on his first enlistment, she added.

“Each time I took (the oath), I understood how serious it was. Every member of the Armed Forces pledges their life to defend their country.

“I got to see first hand what the ultimate sacrifice looks like,” she said. She had been picked to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while in Washington, D.C., and also was assigned to the Port Mortuary in Dover, Del. during the Ft. Hood incident.

“I can’t even tell you how that felt,” she said, recalling when she laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “I can remember after we hung the wreath and we stood back and stood at attention, saluting, I could see the sea of the headstones against the backdrop of Washington, D.C.,” she said.

“I cried like a baby … but it made me proud to be an American.”

In addition to Riley, the event also had a second keynote speaker, former Army specialist Donavan Goff. He is the commander of District 1 of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.

While assigned to Tikrit, Iraq, he was supporting the 1st Infantry Division, Goff was injured by an explosive device and sent to Germany to recover.

For Goff, a big thing was the impact his enlistment had on his mother. “The seven years I was in must have been hell (for her),” he told the 400 people in the audience.

“Getting blown up was strange. You’d think it would hurt a lot more,” he said. He said he was disappointed he was going to miss his vacation in a few weeks, but he called his mother from Germany.

“I told her I was back in Germany … and I got blown up. She starts crying on the phone but I told her to relax,” he recalled.

Being in Iraq is a different experience, he explained. “It was so hard hearing from people at home – all they hear on the news is how this person got hurt.” There is so much more to it than that the specialist added.

According to Jim Allenbrand, the commander of the local VFW post, the event at the Tillamook Air Museum was great from the start through the ending where a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter did a flyover of the giant hangar. “The (River City) bagpipes were an awesome addition to the program. I am really happy with the way it turned out.“

Allenbrand felt the same way about the breakfast held at the Air Base Café in the museum earlier in the morning. “We had more people than we anticipated,” Allenbrand said. “We ran out of change at 9:30 a.m. People were coming up and donating dollars so that we would have dollars for change.” The proceeds of the breakfast were designed to go to support the three veterans homes in Oregon – White City, The Dalles and Lebanon.”

Swiss Hall luncheon
More than 80 people attended the Veterans Day luncheon at the Swiss Hall Friday, with a lunch and dessert.

In addition to a meal, the veterans were entertained by singer and accordion performances before participating in raffles for gift baskets donated for the event.

Elks honor local vets
According to a spokesman for the Elks Lodge, more than 100 veterans, spouses and family members showed up for the free meal Saturday evening.

Hattan spoke to the people attending the dinner, noting that the community has really shown its support during the recent week. “I think as veterans we should be proud that we live here in Tillamook County because the community has recognized us really well. We have got a really patriotic community here,” he told the Elks members and the rest of the people attending the dinner.

Sandy Jacobs, the exalted ruler of Elks Lodge, also made longevity pay off for some veterans as she handed out some cash to the oldest veterans from each service – most in their 90s.

Then she asked who was wearing or could still fit in their uniforms. Some, like Al Fisher wore the uniform jacket of the United States Air Force to the event, but it was sailor Ken Lomann who took home the prize for wearing his black uniform.

The Elks provided a spaghetti and meatball dinner with garlic bread to the people attending the event.

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