Dressed in a spotless Marine Corps uniform, Chief Warrant Officer Anthony Reiter looked impenetrable as he saluted military veterans waving from a procession of military Jeeps and other vehicles along Vancouver’s historic Officers Row.
Beneath that facade, the 42-year-old Vancouver resident, who is a career military officer, said he was remembering some friends he lost during his tours in Iraq and wishing they could be alive to receive the thanks and well wishes of the thousands of people who turned out Saturday for the 26th annual Lough Legacy Veterans Parade at Fort Vancouver.
“It kind of makes it all worthwhile,” Reiter said of the parade. “When we’re on bases, we don’t get that (show of thanks) from the public. We don’t know how much support there is. To see support like this makes me feel my contribution and sacrifice are worth it. It helps us remember what we’re doing it for and to teach the next generation.”
Attendees braved temperatures in the lower 40s, bundled up in coats, scarves, gloves and hats, to pay tribute to the area’s veterans. They were rewarded with smiles, waves and heroic stories from the area’s veterans, and a spectacular view of the Fort Vancouver National Site and Officers Row bedecked in autumn colors: orange and yellow leaves and dissipating fog contrasted against the deep dark green of old evergreen trees, all set to music by military and high school bands and screaming jets painted in red, white and blue.
The cold autumn air felt a little chillier as a procession of families carried banners showing photographs of children, siblings and spouses who died in service to their country. Categorically, the faces were young, their futures unrealized.
The display of ultimate sacrifice hit home for Portland resident Debbie Magel. Magel’s son, 23, is stationed in Pearl Harbor but could be deployed at any time.
“It is quite sobering,” Magel said. “It makes you appreciate the costs people have paid for our country.”
Some veterans remembered how close they were to being among those young faces.
Dale Bowlin of Vancouver reflected on the irony that he would have lost his life on a French battlefield in World War II had he not been captured as a POW and given medical care for a severed artery by the Germans.
“I carry a souvenir,” Bowlin said, lifting a pant leg to reveal a steel artificial leg.
Bowlin is now 88 and shares his account of his war experience with schoolchildren in Vancouver.
Retired Col. Joe M. Jackson of Kent, who was honored as the parade’s Reviewing Officer, also had brushes with death. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing three soldiers trapped in a camp under enemy attack in Vietnam on May 12, 1968. Despite flames on the ground and gunfire, Jackson chose to land his C-123 Provider and risk his life to try to save the three. A rocket landed at the nose of the plane but failed to explode, said Elson Strahan, president of the Fort Vancouver National Trust, recounting the rescue during the parade’s opening ceremony outside the Marshall House on Officers Row.
The Lough Legacy Veterans Parade is paid for in perpetuity with a gift from the estate of Frank and Joanne Lough. Frank Lough was a 22-year Navy man.