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They sacrificed for our freedom

The wind blew but the rain held off for the short, emotional Veterans Day service held Tuesday at Oak Harbor’s Maple Leaf Cemetery.

About 70 celebrants and honorees attended the first such ceremony ever to be held on the grounds, with guest speakers including Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen and Whidbey Naval Air Station commanding officer Cap. Stephen Black.

According to Maple Leaf caretaker Ron Forster, the Veterans Day ceremony, which was sponsored by cemetery officials and local veterans associations, was a long time coming.

“We’ve always remarked that nothing has ever been presented on Veterans Day,” Forster said, adding that he contacted the local VFW about perhaps staging an event.

“They picked up the ball and they did it,” Forster said, describing the VFW’s involvement with the ceremony. “If it’s a success, we’d like to make it a regular tradition.”

Judging from the turnout — which included veterans of World War II, the Vietnam and Korean wars — as well as the touching sermons delivered by a handful of local dignitaries, Monday’s service was but the first of many to come.

After an opening prayer led by NAS Chaplain Haley, Mayor Cohen took the podium to read a series of missives from a new book entitled “Letters From the Front,” which contains heartwrenching epistolary accounts of battle sent home by soldiers of wars both recent and long past. Most of the letter expressed a deep longing for home, as well as fear of the unknown and pride in serving the American people.

“No matter how big or small the war, you are confronted with the fact that you may not come home alive,” Cohen said. “As in any war, there are loved ones who will never follow their letters home.”

Cohen ended by acknowledging that she and others had gathered at the cemetery “to pay tribute to those individuals who lost their lives for our country... you are the national heroes of today,” she said.

VFW Senior Vice Commander Darrell Small struck an emotional chord when he next noted that most soldiers and veterans are everyday folk who rise to the call of service, thereby becoming heroes.

“There are millions of Americans living today who have proudly worn this country’s uniform,” Small said. “Most are just ordinary citizens who have just answered the duty to serve.”

Perhaps the most moving elocution was delivered by Capt. Stephen Black. With tears at times brimming his eyes, Black spoke of the terrific sacrifices made by veterans during warfare, which he called “the most intense, terrible and profound area of human endeavor.”

Calling for citizens to “recommit” themselves to serving the values of freedom, honor and dignity inherent to the American system, Black offered a heartfelt thanks to all veterans from every realm of service.

“This is no small thing that we do today,” Black said. “We pause as a nation to remember those veterans that have served on our behalf.”

He continued, “Our veterans are a reflection of our own values, and what we deem important,” adding that veterans have continued to “secure, defend and define freedom” for the people of America.

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