Fred Steppe served in three wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Veterans Day is especially meaningful for this Vancouver resident.
Steppe was just one of the numerous veterans, family members, elected officials and active military members at the Artillery Barracks at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site for a Veterans Day commemoration on Thursday.
“This (event) is because we’re all family and we all care about our country,” Steppe said.
While Fort Vancouver usually holds a parade on Veterans Day, this year’s event was held at the barracks to accommodate pandemic guidelines. The celebration was hosted by The Historic Trust and the Community Military Appreciation Committee, and featured Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, U.S. 3rd District Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, along with musical performances and military displays.
“I appreciate everything and those who were interested in helping me along in life, all of the veterans have given so much, and all those who supported them in the factories, building the ships and planes — the Rosie the Riveters — when the dust settles, we’re family that support and care for each other,” Steppe said.
The free public event was focused on celebrating and honoring all who have served in past wars as well as during peacetime.
“The military men and women who have served and protected the United States come from all walks of life,” McEnerny-Ogle said, adding they are our parents, our children, grandparents and grandchildren, aunts, uncles and neighbors.
She said what is important to remember is that these veterans are all around us.
Herrera Beutler spoke about the sacrifices so many have made to protect the country, and the example she said was set by Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale.
After being captured by the British, Hale was executed. Prior to his execution, Hale reportedly said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
“Those are profound words, and I know many of you here feel those words on a deep and personal level. You all know what it’s like to serve and you all know what sacrifices you’re willing to make,” Herrera Beutler said.
Herrera Beutler also thanked the Community Military Appreciation Committee for the work they do in making events like the Veterans Day celebration possible.
“I want to replicate, in a bottle, the magic that you all have put together with your leadership,” Herrera Beutler said. “That coordination is not easy … it’s a herculean task and you all do it.”
Vancouver Assistant Police Chief Troy Price was also a guest speaker. Price, who is African American, spoke of the struggles people of color faced in being allowed to fight for their country.
Price recounted the story of Gilbert Johnson, a Black man born in 1905 who first enlisted in the U.S. Army. After completing his term in the Army, Johnson then joined the U.S. Navy. Later, the U.S. Marine Corps began accepting Black troops, so Johnson joined them as well, despite losing his previously earned rank.
“Here he is a 15-year veteran … and he’s only a private,” Price said. “He served honorably and led 23 combat missions in Guam. But it was only after he convinced his superiors that Black soldiers should get that opportunity to fight, too.”
Johnson understood what duty was all about, Price said, adding that is what veterans understand.
The Historic Trust is currently featuring an exhibit titled “Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII” in the Artillery Barracks through Jan. 15.
The day’s events were closed out with a ceremonial release of 50 doves, one to represent each state.
“Today was a beautiful honor for those men and women who did so much to preserve and help promote our country,” Steppe said.