By Tracy Record and Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
The numbers were daunting … the personal stories heartbreaking yet inspiring.
West Seattle’s American Legion Post 160 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2713 joined forces again today for our area’s official Memorial Day ceremony at Forest Lawn Cemetery (WSB sponsor), a half-hour tribute to those who served and sacrificed.
Atop our story, you can watch video of the entire ceremony, starting just after Forest Lawn’s Hank Kerns welcomed everyone, mentioning the cemetery and funeral home’s 115-year history and commitment to the future.
He told of the day 66 years ago – June 2, 1951 – when two Marines came to his family’s door to deliver the news that his brother, Sgt. Walter L. Squires, had just been killed in action in Korea. At the time, another brother, Al Squires, had just enlisted in the Marine Corps and was also far from home, training in Southern California. Ben Squires’ memories were clear and painful, of his mother being presented with the telegram announcing her son’s death.
Fifteen years later, he continued, he himself was a “forward observer” in Vietnam – he explained that meant someone who “goes out with the infantry” and if they encounter trouble, they call in reinforcements. While he was out one day, a fellow servicemember was killed by an explosion, just yards away … 19 years old, engaged to be married, less than a month to go before he was scheduled to go home. “It’s hard to imagine, when you see the graves, crosses, and flags” – like those surrounding the ceremony site at Forest Lawn – “each of them has a story.”
The magnitude of the losses was at the heart of the stories told next by Post 160 Commander Keith Hughes, an Army veteran.
After reading the legendary 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields,” he spoke of watching a documentary about the 23 cemeteries overseas where more than 125,000 U.S. servicemembers are buried, and tens of thousands more remembered as missing in action: “Mostly ordinary men and women caught up in the calamity of war,” each withe their own tales of “courage and service …It’s for these heroes that we gather today.”
As Hughes recalled, World War I was supposed to be “the war that ended all wars … tragically, it wasn’t.” The sacrifices continue. He told the stories of U.S. Air Force Capt. Mary Therese Klinker, killed in a plane crash on April 4, 1975, during Operation Babylift, rescuing orphans from South Vietnam, and Green Beret SSgt. Mark De Alencar, killed fighting ISIS in Afghanistan just last month.
Capt. Klinker was 27; SSgt. De Alencar, 37. But the average age of those buried in the overseas cemeteries he had mentioned, Hughes said, was just 20 – “they left us too early … but what they lacked in time, they made up in valor.” He urged support not just for veterans but for their families and the families of those who gave their lives in service.
Also participating in today’s ceremony: Boy Scout Troop 284, singer Ross Hauck (with “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem), and Pete Kirkman and Al Keith with “Dueling Taps.” Before and afterward, the Duwamish Jazz Band entertained at Forest Lawn:
And shortly after the ceremony, Post 160 hosted a cookout at its headquarters in The Triangle:
Members and community volunteers began the day by placing flags along California SW in the heart of the West Seattle Junction.