Flags adorned the graves at the Roseburg National Cemetery and groups gathered under blue skies across the county this weekend to honor those who died serving their country.
At a small Memorial Day service Monday at the Roseburg National Cemetery Annex, veterans gathered to see a wreath of red, white and blue flowers laid and to hear “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, three rifle volleys, the playing of “Taps” and the ringing of eight bells.
When an equipment failure blocked the planned recorded version of the National Anthem, the group sang it instead, led by Douglas County Veterans Service Officer Mary Newman-Keyes. Newman-Keyes later sang “America the Beautiful.”
Roseburg VA Medical Center Chaplain Patrice Robichaux gave the benediction, a prayer of thanks for those who sacrificed for our freedom.
“It is a sacrifice that is easy to forget. For those who have it, freedom is like oxygen. It’s something we just have,” she said.
Douglas County Veterans Forum President Larry Hill drew a comparison between the numbers who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic and those who have died in service to their country.
He said 609,539 and counting have died in the pandemic. However, the impact of those falling in battlefields far from home in World War I and II, Korea and Vietnam numbered 529,585 of America’s finest, he said.
Since the Revolutionary War, the number of soldiers, sailors and other service members who have died is 1,354,664.
“We must all offer our prayers of thanksgiving for the sacrifices of all our fallen to keep our country free and our flag flying high,” he said.
Former Douglas County Veterans Forum President Jim Little recited “In Flanders Fields,” a poem written by Lt. Col. John McCrae, who wrote about the poppies that grow between the crosses marking a place where World War I soldiers were buried.
Little said the poem used to be read by the late Dirk Kruysmen, who grew up in The Netherlands and recalled being liberated from Nazi Germany by Canadian and American soldiers. Kruysman moved to America and joined the U.S. Army. Kruysman lived in Roseburg and was one of the founders of the Douglas County Veterans Forum.
Organizer Carol Hunt said shortly before the ceremony began that it’s always important for us to remember our veterans. Who knows what language we’d be speaking now without them, she said.
“We’ve lost so many veterans and it’s just a small thing that Douglas County can do for our veterans that are here. And as you can see we’ve had a great turnout. I’m happy to continue this forward,” Hunt said.
Gwen Best, a Marine, National Guard and Army veteran who rang the eight bells during the ceremony, said she thought the event went well.
“It’s an honor. I’m glad I’m able to do it,” she said.
Robichaux, who served as an Army combat chaplain in the Middle East, said she finds the Memorial Day service very sombering. She recalls being with soldiers at the end of their lives.
“Something like this keeps their memory alive and is needed for all those that have gone on before us to make sure that we never forget that freedom isn’t free, that there is a very high price that’s paid,” she said.
A flyover of F-15 Eagles from the Oregon Air National Guard was held a little after the service.
Events held around the county started off last week, with Fir Grove Elementary Students placing flags at the Roseburg cemetery.
On Saturday, the Democratic Party of Douglas County hosted a honk and wave event on Garden Valley Boulevard.
A Fallen Hero Memorial Day Cruise and Honoring started in Roseburg on Saturday and traveled to Riverbend Park in Winston, where a car show, music, food and other events were held.
On Sunday, the Sutherlin Lions Club members laid wreaths at the veterans memorial on Central Park, and Reedsport held a memorial parade.
Glide had its annual Memorial Day event Monday at the Glide Veterans Memorial on the North Umpqua Highway.
And a flag ceremony Monday at Century 21 The Neil Company Real Estate in Roseburg was followed by a barbecue at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2468 in Roseburg.
More than 70 people gathered along Northwest Stewart Parkway in Roseburg Monday morning to celebrate Memorial Day and dedicate a new flagpole that will fly the colors of the American flag, the U.S. Marine Corps and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The flagpole was built in the parking lot next to Century 21/The Neil Company Real Estate offices by the entrance to Walmart.
Neil Hummel, owner of The Neil Company and a U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, was pleased to have the flagpole at that location on his property.
Hummel said a few years ago one of his clients asked if he had any use for a 30-foot flagpole that he planned to put in his yard, but was selling his property.
“He wanted to bring attention to the sacrifices that our veterans have made for our country and knew I was a Vietnam Marine Veteran that maybe I could fulfill his dream,” Hummel said.
So Hummel purchased the pole, but five years later it still hadn’t been put up.
“We wanted to dedicate it to all the veterans of Douglas County, who so honorably served our country, and further recognize the local chapter of the VFW #2468,” Hummel said. “They do so much to help our Douglas County veterans.”
Elias Minaise, the owner of Signcraft, of Roseburg, constructed the base with the dedication plaque and installed the pole.
Retired Marine Corps veteran, 1st Sgt. Jim Barnett read a proclamation from President Joe Biden.
“On Memorial Day we honor and reflect upon the courage, integrity and dedication of the members of our armed forces who’ve made the greatest sacrifice to our nation,” Barnett read. “These patriots embody the best of the American spirit and put themselves on the line for duty, honor and country and paid the ultimate price.”
A Veterans of Foreign Wars plaque at the base of the pole reads “Honoring Douglas County veterans who so nobly served the cause of freedom.”
Veterans from several wars were on hand for the ceremony, including a 92-year-old World War II veteran, several Vietnam veterans, some from the Korean War, and a couple from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tending the flags was Glide High School graduate Timothy North, who is serving in the U.S. Air Force in South Korea and is on leave until mid-June.
“Taps” was played by Tony D’Agnese of Roseburg and the event was followed by a barbecue at the VFW Hall at 1127 NE Walnut Street in Roseburg.