Molalla's veterans make an impact
"Those who are too young to know need to be taught," a grandfather said to his grandson in the opening video at Molalla's Veterans Day program.
For that reason, and to celebrate veterans, people filled the Molalla River Middle School gymnasium on Wednesday, Nov. 8. As in years past, the program was hosted by former mayor, middle school teacher and Vietnam War veteran Mike Clarke.
"We bring you here and we sing songs, and we try to ease the pain for a little while," Clarke said. "That's what a lot of the guys here, especially the first-timers who come in here, they say it's a breathing time for them."
After the video, the Molalla VFW presented the colors and the middle school band played the National Anthem. The program included speeches by County Commissioners, stories and poems from student speakers, the gifting of quilts, and songs by veteran Travis Powell, Police Chief Rod Lucich and Miss Oregon's Teen Emma Ellis. Both Senator Jeff Merkley and Congressman Kurt Shrader sent messages to be read aloud to the crowd.
"I would like to thank every veteran who is in attendance," Schrader's representative Michael Klein read on his behalf. "Our nation is indebted to your service. Whenever our nation has called upon them, our veterans have answered, proudly carrying the torch of liberty for the world to see."
Faith Holloway, who represents Quilts of Valor for Northwest Oregon, gifted handmade quilts to seven local veterans including Mike Clarke, Richard Clarke, Tamika Phillips, Stephen R. Phillips, Gerald George and William Blackburn, and to Janet Williams on behalf of her husband Tim Williams, who passed away Nov. 3. To date, Holloway said, the organization has given away more than 171,000 quilts to men and women who have served. Through tears, Holloway read a poem, and then one at a time, the quilts were cloaked onto the backs of their new owners. Holloway hugged each one of them.
The program created a bridge between generations, as ten middle school students took turns sharing on stage.
After the assembly, some students shared an understanding of what might happen to veterans' stories if young people don't preserve them.
"They'll probably be lost and no one will remember them or what they did," said student Mateo Miramontes.
The next generations are the keepers of veterans' stories, and yet during the program, Clarke said that veterans aren't always quick to share about their experiences at war.
"I tell them more now," Clarke said after the program.
When Clarke was teaching social studies at the middle school, he used to take students on trips to Washington, DC. The first time he tried to approach the Vietnam Memorial, he couldn't seem to get his feet to walk to it. But years later, he started talking to his students before visiting the wall.
"I said on this wall are 58,000 names," Clarke said. "I said something that's really important to me is that part of my job in Vietnam as a door gunner was that we would pick up body bags. So, some of these names on the wall, I don't know who they are, were in my helicopter on their final flight out of the jungle and to the morgue…I didn't talk about that for a long time, but I thought kids needed to know what a 19-year-old was going through."
Powell echoed the importance of sharing war experiences with younger generations.
"The stories need to be told," Powell said. "There are some things that the history books capture, but you really understand it when you hear from one who was there."
Powell was someone who was there…in the mountains of Afghanistan as a flight medic in a MEDEVAC company, he said after the program. Powell was required to treat not only his own, but also other armed forces, the civilian populations and even his enemy.
"That was a new thing to me," Powell said. "So, my prayer going over was, 'Lord, please don't let hate overwhelm me.' I had a bit of anger built up over what the enemy was doing."
Powell eventually had to test his resolve to set aside hate and to care for his enemy when one day, he encountered a young enemy fighter. A 19-year-old was trying to plant an improvised explosive device, and it partially went off on him.
"That enemy fighter knew that if he was incapacitated, it'd be safer to come to us than it would be to go back to his people," Powell said.
The young man ended up in Powell's helicopter.
"If my mind was in that direction, I could have snowed (medicated) him to the point he'd never come back, and done my own justice," Powell said. "But it wouldn't be justice, it would be the wrong thing."
Instead, when his enemy gestured for a drink, Powell provided it.
"The look on his eyes changed from being anger…to someone who wanted to tell me, 'You don't know what a difference that is,'" Powell said. "He put his lips together and reached his hand up to him to give the thank-you gesture."
Clarke's and Powell's are just two stories of 20 million, which is the current number of living veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That number is expected to decline to 13.6 million by 2037. Molalla will never hear all those stories, but on Wednesday, the little town did their part to honor the 20 million living and the countless more who have died.
For more photos of the Veterans Day Program: Photo Gallery: 2017 Molalla Veterans Day Assembly