Vancouver Memorial Day ceremony pays tribute to region's war dead

Mothers of fallen soldiers appreciate show of gratitude

By Jacques Von Lunen, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

Many stirring words were spoken in the shadow of the Clark County Veterans' Memorial on Monday.

But it seemed that none quite had the power of a lone bugle.

As the somber notes of taps wafted through the trees surrounding the memorial, eyes closed, heads slumped and tissues dabbed at cheeks.

About 500 had come to cherish the memory of the fallen in a ceremony featuring military and civilian leaders.

Tracy Fortmann, the superintendent of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, spoke about the career military men in her family, including her father and a favorite uncle.

And she said that the fort, a final resting place for fur traders, soldiers and American Indians, is "sacred ground, fitting the sanctity of this day."

State Rep. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, read an essay written by a high school student from California, in which the girl reflects

on the sacrifices of servicemen and women, and on those who enjoy their time off on the national holiday without remembering the war dead.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, said she was "humbled to get to meet with military families" as part of her position in Congress. She reminded the crowd that, while no Clark County resident has died in the wars overseas in the past year, Spec. Mikayla Bragg, of Longview, was killed in Afghanistan in December.

Col. Peter Norseth, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 95th Division, which is based at the new Armed Forces Reserve Center in east Vancouver, was the last speaker. Norseth, Fortmann, Pridemore, Herrera Beutler and Daniel Tarbell, of the Clark County Veteran's Resource Committee, then laid a wreath at the memorial.

"The heroes we remember today didn't set out to be heroes, but to serve their country," Norseth said. "Their families wait for them."

He then saluted the Gold Star families -- those who lost a family member in war -- who were seated in the two front rows.

"Sacrifice and loss will always be part of your family's history," Norseth said. "Words can't express our thankfulness."

At least two mothers of fallen soldiers seated on those chairs appreciated the sentiment.

"It's nice to know that you're honored as a mother," said Rosemary Elder of Vancouver.

Her son, Spc. Paul Vincent Elder, died Sept. 9, 2003. But this was the first time Rosemary Elder had attended the Vancouver ceremony. Last year, she went to the ceremony at Willamette Memorial Cemetery in Albany, Ore. Before that, she never attended special Memorial Day celebrations.

Not because she didn't want to be part of one -- the Army never reached out to her before, she said. But last year, she finally was contacted by the Army's Survivor Outreach Services. The women in the group have made her feel comfortable, Elder said.

She never knew before that she would become a part of the ceremony as a mother, and be saluted by the featured speakers, she said.

"It's nice to know we're being acknowledged," Elder said.

The ceremony was difficult for her in parts, she said. The gun salute reminded her too much of her son's funeral.

"It was very emotional for me," she said. "It still seems like yesterday."

Janie Peto also said attending the ceremony was hard. Her son, Sgt. Jason Peto, died in a military hospital Dec. 7, 2010, after being wounded in Afghanistan the month before. His is the most recent name added to the Clark County Veterans' Memorial.

Attending the annual ceremony "is really hard," Janie Peto said. "But you do it for them and all the others, out of respect. They've given everything."

The only way to repay her son and other war dead is to pay them respect, she said.

She'll never get over the loss of her son, Peto said. His death is with her every moment of every day.

But the ceremony helps a tiny bit, at least.

"It's so nice that so many people come," Peto said. "Jason would have been so proud."

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com.