Veterans of war honored at ceremony

For many, Memorial Day means an extra long weekend, a trip to the lake, a family vacation, or maybe just a nap on the couch. But for most veterans, the day holds higher significance. To better communicate that significance, American Legion Post 14 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 353 put on a ceremony Monday honoring those soldiers who gave their lives for our country.

A crowd waited under the shade of a tall elm and nearby pine on Memorial Day morning in the manicured grass of Ashland's Mountain View Cemetery. A full sun broke through the crisp air with promise of welcome warmth during the day that pleased the organizers.

Ted Sockman is the commander of the American Legion post 14. He has been a member of the post for about six years, he said, since he moved to Ashland. Sockman served for the Army in Korea in 1951 and 1952.

Marion Jack is the commander of Ashland's Veterans of Foreign Wars Grizzly Post 353, and the District 7 senior vice-commander. Jack served in the Army's 1st infantry division in the German occupation forces during the Korean war. When he was first drafted at 19 in 1953 he expected to go to Korea.

"It was a blessing," Jack said. "I liked Germany. It was far enough after the war that people were used to the troops."

To him Memorial Day takes on a special meaning. "Without remembrance their sacrifice is meaningless," Jack said.

As the band played in the background, Jack and Col. William Seymour reminisced about their days playing football for what was then Southern Oregon College. After the band finished, Sockman took the podium and gave a brief history of the Memorial Day tradition of honoring our soldiers.

"The freedoms we enjoy were paid for by the lives of others," Sockman said. "Our WWII veterans are passing, most of our WWI veterans are gone and it looks like those of us from Korea are next."

Sockman spoke of the importance of remembering the soldiers who have fought and died in service of our country. "It's the thought that counts," he said.

Charlie Beechan attended his first Memorial Day service at the Mountain View Cemetery. He moved from Oklahoma four years ago. As a member of the Kiwanis Club of Ashland, he helped place the flags that line Siskiyou Boulevard. Beechan was a B17 pilot in WWII and retired with 30 years of service.

"My most enjoyable period was during the Berlin airlift," Beechan said. He completed 212 missions delivering food past the Russian blockade.

A Berlin Airlift Memorial now commemorates the 31 U.S. and 39 British pilots that lost their lives during the operation.

Following Sockman, the featured speaker, Col. William Seymour, arose to address the crowd.

"Today we are involved in conflict, this time in a war against global terrorism," said Seymour. "As always our young men and women carry the burden of our conflict."

Seymour spoke of his childhood memories of WWI.

"This was the war to end all wars," he said.

Despite the establishment of the League of Nations, WWII followed closely after. More than 400,000 U.S. soldiers gave their lives.

"Most of us who have been there would give anything to forget," Seymour said. Still, he wishes he could take the place of a young soldier with a family and his whole life ahead of him.

There is still a role for veterans to play, Seymour said. "We must never allow the sacrifices of our soldiers to be forgotten."

The ceremony finished with two scouts from Boy Scout Troop 112 placing American flags on the graves of veterans of the Spanish American War and the Civil War. After a rendition of "Taps," VFW Chaplain Brad Fish led the crowd in prayer. Ending the prayer Fish asked, "Help us remember that freedom has never been and never will be free."

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