A few hundred people gathered at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site on Monday for Vancouver’s annual Memorial Day Observance ceremony.
For the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the full event was held at the Fort Vancouver Parade Ground. It was held virtually in 2020 and a scaled-down version was held at the Fort Vancouver Barracks in 2021.
Scouts with Troops 479 and 5479 raised the enormous garrison flag to half-mast to start the ceremony before Community Military Appreciation Committee co-chair, retired Col. Larry Smith, gave opening remarks and introduced speakers.
Vancouver Fire Chaplain Peter Schrater began by urging attendees to remember the people who served in conflicts more than the conflict itself.
“Many times we get caught up in the conflict and what sent these people out and we let that be the thing that determines whether or not we remember them,” Schrater said. “On this day, we’re not remembering the conflict. We remember the people and the individual.”
The first host speaker of the day was Fort Vancouver Historical Site Superintendent Tracy Fortmann, who noted that her family’s military history is what led her to a career in public service.
“I was taught service was the obligation of every American,” she said. “We must choose today and every day to come together as Americans to honor the sacrifices of the past.”
Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnery-Ogle echoed that sentiment by asking attendees to reflect on what Memorial Day means to them.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, also gave remarks. Herrera Beutler said speaking at the event was an honor and something she cherishes. She spoke of local soldiers who died in combat, like Army Sgt. Eric Emond of Brush Prairie, who died in 2018 after an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle in Afghanistan. It was Emond’s seventh deployment. He had been in the military for 21 years.
“He was a decorated hero and truly embodies what it meant to be a U.S. Army soldier,” Herrera Beutler said. “His story of service and valor will live on.”
Special remarks were given by Gold Star Spouse Melissa Scholl-Bellah, who lost her husband Lance Cpl. Michael Scholl in November 2006 — one month after the birth of their daughter, Addison.
“Over the years, how I feel about Memorial Day has changed,” Scholl-Bellah said. “Of course the sadness never goes away … but the pride, the honor and the true selflessness of the men and women take over.
“I know deep down these American heroes wouldn’t want us to be sad, but to remember them, honor them, and tell their story,” she added.
The keynote speaker was Col. Todd Hofford, who commands the 142nd Wing at Portland Air National Guard Base in Oregon. Hofford began by giving a brief history of Memorial Day, which started after the Civil War. He then noted that this was the first Memorial Day with full celebrations nationwide since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“For the first time since 2019, Americans again will gather for parades and ceremonies,” he said. “We will shed tears and share fond memories of those who have gone before us. Today, we honor their dedication, courage and sacrifice.”
“As history often reminds us, liberty is not freely gained, nor is it easily preserved. It must be continuously safeguarded by each generation,” he added.
Hofford concluded his speech by echoing Scholl-Bellah in saying the fallen would want us to celebrate on Memorial Day.
“Those who fought for us, our lives, our liberty and pursuit of happiness, would be honored that we celebrate all the things that their sacrifice left us.”