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For East County veterans and families, Memorial Day is to honor fallen comrades

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Gresham veterans honored those who never came home during Memorial Day ceremonies Monday, May 31. Veteran Edwin Donald Anderson wears a wrist band in memory of his twin uncles, both of whom died while serving in Korea.

Wes and Ray were in the U.S. Army and deployed in 1950 to war. Wes was declared missing in action at the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, that December. He was never found. Ray was killed a few weeks later in South Korea. He is buried alongside his parents.

While Anderson never forgets his uncles, on Memorial Day their memories burn the brightest.

"Memorial Day means to me a time to remember and show honor to all those men and women who have given all or part of their lives serving our country," said Anderson, a Navy veteran who served from 1965-1985.

For those who have worn the uniform, or had loved ones serve, Memorial Day means so much more than just a three-day weekend.

"To us, this is not a holiday — it is a day to remember," said David Lowe, commander for the Gresham Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 180.

On Monday, May 31, the Gresham VFW and VFW Auxiliary hosted a pair of events commemorating the people who bravely gave their lives in service of this country.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Air Force veteran Frank West accepts a wreath during a ceremony at the Gresham Heroes Memorial. It all began with flowers, flags and a salute using ceremonial M1 Garand rifles donated by the Army Civilian Marksmanship Program and was held during a graveside ceremony hosted by Forest Lawn Cemetery, 400 S.W. Walters Drive, and Bateman-Carrol Funeral Home.

Then the community and veterans gathered at the Gresham Heroes Memorial, on the corner of East Powell Boulevard and Southeast Roberts Avenue, for a second ceremony, honoring all branches of the military. Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from Troop 664 presented the colors during the ceremony.

"This past year has been incredibly challenging, it would be so easy to postpone this ceremony," Lowe said. "But the VFW does not stand for that — we stand for our veterans."

At the Heroes Memorial, representatives from the Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines and Coast Guard hung wreaths to honor those who never made it home. Wreaths were also placed in honor of the Gresham Police Department and Gresham Fire Department as a way to give thanks to those first responders.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Gresham Travis Stovall said the significance of Memorial Day isnt lost on him coming from a military family.  The ceremony also honored all the frontline workers who bore the brunt of the pandemic, from nurses to grocery store employees.

"Those are the people who stood in front of COVID so we could remain safe," Lowe said.

Elected officials spoke during the gathering. Gresham Mayor Travis Stovall comes from a military family, so the gathering carried special meaning.

"All of the things we get to enjoy is because of the (veterans) here and those who never made it home," Stovall said. "We must recognize and honor those who have given their lives for our freedom. Thank you for your service and everything you have done."

Rep. Ricki Ruiz, D-Gresham, also spoke.

"Not all families get to laugh and smile on this weekend," Ruiz said.

Remembering the fallen

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Gresham VFW Post Commander David Lowe spoke during a graveside ceremony. For Lowe, remembering just one person on Memorial Day is too painful.

Instead his mind turns to the flag-draped coffins in the back of a C-130; of veterans back home being supported by the VFW; of those suffering from the silent weapons of war — post-traumatic stress disorder, herbicides, atomic and nuclear tests, exposure to depleted uranium, and the shattered families.

"I think we who have served in war never truly come home," Lowe said.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Gresham VFW Post 180 placed flags along Main Avenue in downtown. But he said its groups like the Gresham VFW Post 180 that are making the difference. The theme for this year is "still serving." The VFW provides advice and assistance with benefits by accredited Veteran Service Officers and help with filing claims at no costs to veterans.

Post 180 offers financial relief and food boxes courtesy Amen Ministries to veteran families in need. They host an annual Patriots Pen essay contest for Middle School students, and the Voice of Democracy speech and essay contest for high schoolers. They also have an honor guard to provide full military honors to honorably discharged veterans, and so much more.

During Memorial Day weekend, Gresham veterans pass out Buddy Poppies —vivid red flowers that represent the loss of life in war. When Whitey Martin, Gresham VFW member, hands a poppy to someone who understands its significance, it is a connection he cherishes.

"They know what the poppies mean and have personal experiences where they can relate to military service," Martin said. "It's a relief for them to get a chance to share their stories, some with a tear on their cheek."

"Those are the people I want to remember (on Memorial Day) because they remind me I am not alone," Martin added.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - On Memorial Day Gresham veterans and the families of veterans think of those who died in combat. In addition to his uncles, Anderson remembers a childhood friend who served three tours in Vietnam. During his final stint as a gunner on a helicopter, he lost part of his foot. Upon returning home, he began to drink heavily, dying a few years later from cirrhosis of his liver.

"He was fighting demons he brought back with him from Vietnam," Anderson said. "As I've heard about many others, he died in Vietnam and didn't know it."

Anderson lost another friend, Wayne, who died in South Vietnam in April of 1968, just six months after being deployed. Wayne's name is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. — panel 49E, line 11.

"My grandson's class went to D.C. a few years ago, and he got a rubbing of Wayne's name for me," Anderson said.

In Gresham, every Memorial Day, those names and faces aren't forgotten.

"It is about showing honor to all those men and women who have given all or part of their lives serving our country," Anderson said.

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