Sunny skies and warm weather greeted a respectful crowd that gathered at the Fort Vancouver Artillery Barracks on Memorial Day to remember family, friends and community members who died in military service.
The event — put on by the Community Military Appreciation Committee, or CMAC — featured a slew of speakers ranging from Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle to Gold Star mother Meredith McMackin. There was also a wreath-laying ceremony at the nearby Clark County Veterans War Memorial.
It was the first CMAC Memorial Day event open to the public since the 2019 ceremony. Last year’s observance was only streamed online and aired on TV due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
CMAC executive board member and retired Col. Larry Smith said the event is normally held at the nearby Fort Vancouver Parade Ground with thousands in attendance.
Smith began the event by reminding attendees of what the day is for.
“Memorial Day is not a holiday, contrary to popular belief,” Smith said. “It’s an observance and remembrance.”
After further introductions and a singing of the national anthem by Vancouver Police Officer Rey Reynolds, Vancouver Fire Department chaplain Peter Schrater quoted former President Ronald Reagan’s 1985 speech about soldiers giving up two lives when they die in service: “The one they were living and the one they would have lived.” He then led the group in prayer.
May 31 also marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa, Okla., race massacre, in which the Greenwood District, also known as Black Wall Street at the time, was destroyed by a largely white mob. CMAC executive board member and retired Col. Michael Burton asked for a moment of silence to remember the victims before introducing the remaining speakers and significant attendees.
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Superintendent Tracy Fortmann spoke, as many did, about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affected them and those around them.
“I feel honored to live in a community that helped one another and pulled together,” Fortmann said. “It seems fitting to me that on Memorial Day, we have moved closer to normalcy, allowing us to share in-person our appreciation and love to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation.”
McEnerny-Ogle began her remarks by talking about the history of the Fort Vancouver Barracks and how it housed soldiers since its construction for 162 years, until 2011.
“The legacy of the Vancouver Barracks will live on,” she said. “We will honor the history of this place and the memory of all those who served here and made the ultimate sacrifice. And not just on Memorial Day, but every day.”
She then urged those in attendance and watching remotely to remember the cost of the freedom that Americans have to bear.
“America is what it is today because of the service members whose names are carved on the Clark County Veterans War Memorial and countless memorials across the nation,” she said.
The featured speaker was Gold Star mother McMackin, whose son, Cpl. Julian M. Woodall, died along with another Marine when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device during a mountain patrol in Iraq on May 22, 2007.
McMackin acknowledged the month of May is always the hardest of the year for her and her family.
“The last time I spoke with my son Julian was on Mother’s Day,” she said through tears. “He told me he stood in line for two hours to call me from Iraq. I just remember telling him how wonderful it was to hear his voice.”
She said the meaning of Memorial Day has changed a lot for her since Julian’s death, and the pain of the loss of her son, while still present, is not as raw as it once was.
“It feels like my son lives on inside of me,” McMackin said. “I like to think a part of those who gave their lives for our country lives inside us all. That their dedication, their bravery and their willingness to give their lives for something larger than themselves has become part of the fabric of our country, interwoven through our lives and making us all stronger.”
She concluded her speech by reminding those in attendance of the purpose of Memorial Day.
“Remember our loved ones and those who gave their lives in service, to celebrate their lives, by finding a way to serve in their honor, and to share the journey by helping each other heal,” she said.
After McMackin’s remarks, there was a brief march by all speakers and some attendees to the Clark County Veterans War Memorial for the wreath-laying ceremony. While there, members of the VFW Post 7824 Honor Guard performed taps and a rifle salute.
The ceremony concluded with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipe played by Gustav Baur of the Portland Police Highland Guard.
The next CMAC event in 2021 will be in September for 9/11, according to Smith.