Editor's note: West Linn Adult Community Center member and volunteer Patti McCoy attended the November Military Memorial Service held at Willamette National Cemetery recently. She was particularly moved by the experience and wished to share information about the memorials with readers.
Willamette National Cemetery's monthly Military Memorial Service was held on a sunny but crisp afternoon last week. Every memorial service is sorrowful and important, but this one was particularly poignant to me. This service was for 11 veterans — four from WWII, two from the Korean War and five from the Vietnam War — who had already been interred at the cemetery, but without the rendering of full military honors due them. On this day, a week before Thanksgiving, 10 men and a woman received the full military honors owed to them.
For nearly two decades WNC has held a monthly memorial service, usually on the fourth Thursday of the month. For various reasons, including no living family, dire medical issues for surviving family, or even indigence, some deceased veterans are laid to rest at WNC without receiving military honors. With an average monthly roster of 25-30, the monthly memorial pays full military respects to those "orphaned" deceased veterans who were interred at the cemetery the preceding month.
Witnesses to this monthly memorial include a number of veterans and caring citizens who regularly attend these as "de facto" family of the deceased. One such witness is Dave Vrooman, a submarine veteran of the Vietnam War. Dave, who has also volunteered as membership database manager for the Friends of the West Linn Adult Community Center, has been attending these special WNC monthly memorials for 12 years.
West Linn resident Lorene Bay is also a volunteer with the Friends of the WLACC and currently serves as the group's treasurer. At the time of her father's death 12 years ago her mother's health issues required Lorene and her sister's full attention, preventing them from arranging a full military funeral for their father. Dave invited Lorene to attend a monthly memorial service with him about three years ago, and after attending she was overwhelmed with gratitude. She learned that the month after her father died he received the full military honors to which he was entitled through the Military Memorial program. Appreciative of the honor paid her father, for the past several years she has made it her practice to attend about 10 monthly memorial services a year.
"It really made me happy to see my dad's name on a roster and know he received the full military honors he deserved," Lorene said.
During the service the presiding chaplain read the name, rank, branch of service and wartime for each of the 11 veterans being memorialized. A bell tolled remembrance after every name was read. Three rifle shots were volleyed, signifying duty, honor and country. A lone bugler played Taps, the emotionally distinctive 24-note melody associated with military funerals. Near the end of the service, another veteran — a piper affiliated with the nonprofit Military Honors by the Pipes — played a heartrending version of "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes. The chaplain closed with a scripture reading.
A veteran in attendance explained to me the tradition of folding the American flag. Honor guard members fold the flag 13 times, representing the original 13 U.S. colonies, each fold having great significance. The first fold symbolizes life, the second symbolizes our belief in eternal life; the third is made in honor and remembrance of the veterans departing this life who defended our country. Other folds represent our trust in God in peace and war, our allegiance to our country, tribute to the Armed Forces, women and men. The final fold, forming the finished triangle with the stars uppermost, symbolizes the national motto, "In God We Trust."
Willamette National Cemetery is located at 11800 SE Mt Scott Blvd. in the Happy Valley area. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and is one of three national cemeteries in Oregon. To learn more, call 503-273-5250.
The West Linn Adult Community Center is located at 1180 Rosemont Road in West Linn. Lunch is served at noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This week's menu features hamburgers, potato salad, broccoli and carrot cake on Friday, Nov. 30; pork stew with brown rice, broccoli and cookies and cream pie on Monday, Dec. 3 and Birthday Brunch of quiche, hash browns, sausage and fruit salad on Wednesday, Dec. 5. Cost is $5 per person.
Call the center at 503-557-4704 to reserve a seat or learn more about WLACC programs.
Patti McCoy has been a West Linn resident for 33 years and a volunteer at the WLACC for over nine years.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.