Veterans, families gather in Olympia for Memorial Day events

Vern Ross sees Memorial Day as a chance to remember those whose lives were lost during war.

Ross, from McCleary, is a Navy veteran himself, having served as a cook on submarines. His father was a paratrooper in World War II, and his grandfather was a marine in World War I. Ross attended the Memorial Day ceremony Monday morning in the Legislative Building on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.

Ross said he grew up in the Vietnam War era during the height of the draft. Thousands of teens, including Ross, were giving up their lives and prospects of going straight into college or the workforce to risk their lives in war.

The ceremony on Monday was a smaller event than previous years, with about 100 people in attendance. The American Legion band was set to perform but had prior engagements, according to event organizers. Lt. Gov. Denny Heck and Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland were on the list of speakers but were absent due to illnesses.

It also was the first time since the pandemic that the event was in person, too.

Catherine Olson, a 20-year Army veteran and the American Legion Auxiliary 4th District president, said in previous years there has been a 21-gun salute and cannon firing. But recent law bars people from carrying firearms on the campus, other than with special permission.

Olson welcomed those in attendance and said the event was a chance to honor and bring meaning to a tradition of tribute for the country’s departed heroes.

Lourdes Alvarado-Ramos, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs, read the Governor’s proclamation since Gov. Jay Inslee is currently testing positive for COVID-19.

The proclamation states that commemoration of those who have died in wars has been celebrated since 1868, just after the Civil War ended. It didn’t become a national holiday until 1971.

“It’s important to cherish the memories of our veterans and their family members, and to remember their contributions that have made our lives better,” Alvarado-Ramos said.

Alvarado-Ramos talked about the importance of supporting and honoring veterans who are still alive because of the sacrifices they made for American freedom, as well as the hardships veterans deal with after serving, such as post traumatic stress disorder and loneliness.

“We have a duty to honor them,” she said. “Some face enemies long after they get home. The results can be devastating: self medication, homelessness, incarceration and suicide.”

She said 20% of those who died by suicide from 2015 to 2018 were veterans. She said it’s time to take action and serve those who remain after war.

“When it comes to veterans, if you see something, do something,” she said. She encouraged people to reach out to veterans they know, whether it’s a family member or neighbor, to keep them active in the community and their everyday lives.

She said most veterans are 65 years old or older and often don’t have anyone in their support network anymore.

Keith Looker, manager of the Lacey Veterans Services Hub, said it’s important to show veterans how much they’re appreciated, especially women veterans because they’ve often been overlooked. He said there’s only been one female to receive the Medal of Honor, and that was Mary Edwards Walker for her service in the Civil War.

There is a women veterans appreciation brunch planned for June 12 at the Marriott Hotel in Tacoma.

The ceremony ended with a prayer from American Legion Post 3 chaplain Karen Grundler, followed by a playing of “Taps” on a recording.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars had a ceremony immediately following the Memorial Day service at the Vietnam War memorial on the Capitol Campus. Hundreds of people gathered, as well as dozens of veterans who rode motorcycles to the event.

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