Guest article by Citrus Heights resident Michael Bullington–
Veterans, city leaders, and community members gathered for a Veterans Day ceremony and solemn march at Sylvan Cemetery in Citrus Heights on Saturday, expressing appreciation for those who’ve served in America’s armed forces.
The hour-long event began with a 10:30 a.m. march around the cemetery’s “Avenue of Flags,” led by a pair of Citrus Heights police motorcycles and five-member “Honor Guard,” followed by the local Boy Scouts Troop 228, four Civil War re-enactors, American Legion Post 637 members, and various other participants. Marchers proceeded along the avenue, finally halting at the central gazebo, where the colors were presented and the ceremony began before a standing-room-only gathering.
The Folsom Harmony Express men’s choir set the tone by singing a variety of patriotic favorites, including a medley recognizing each area of service. Audience members who had served stood during the playing of their branch hymns. The contingent included two combat veterans of World War II. The sergeant at arms, a Navy veteran, then draped the flag honoring those missing in action over an empty chair beside the podium.
Jim Monteton, a veteran and chairman of Sylvan Cemetery, officiated the event and welcomed four of the city’s five councilmembers, Police Chief Ron Lawrence, Commander Paul Reyes of Post 637, and former Sacramento County Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan.
During a short speech, Mayor Jeff Slowey praised contributions of veterans and the police force. He said that of the two special days dedicated to those who served, he preferred Veterans Day because he has been able to actually meet and mix with the men and women who served, in contrast to Memorial Day, which honors those that didn’t return. He also managed to elicit some laughter with his trademark dry sense of humor and self-deprecation.
Chief Lawrence shared a story with attendees about the life of Captain Charlie Plumb, a former Navy fighter pilot, who was shot down on his 75th mission over Vietnam, with only five days left on his deployment. He spent almost six years in captivity, during which time his wife re-married, believing he had been killed. During the last two years of his imprisonment he served as the camp chaplain and now continues his efforts to motivate and inspire as he tours the nation, Lawrence said. The police chief then challenged those gathered to face adversities with the same spirit and determination, and to “become our best selves.”
Commander Reyes took to the podium with a reminder of the oath of allegiance he and other veterans took, pledging their very lives to protect the United States. He made special note of those in the audience that served in combat in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, acknowledging those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Sharing how he had just watched a young boy remove his ball cap and stand up “straight as an arrow” when marchers came by with the flag, the commander said to an applause, “There is hope for our children.” Recounting his time in the Marine Corps, which included two tours of duty in Vietnam, he said he would unreservedly repeat it again, if it were possible.
Monteton, the cemetery’s chairman, closed with a recap of World War I, which was called “the war to end all wars,” and sardonically quoted Plato as saying that only the dead have seen the end of war. He recalled that the U.S. only entered the war when it became evident that the Germans clearly had the upper hand (entering officially on April 4, 1917, with the first appearance in battle on May 28, 1918).
Monteton then highlighted technological developments brought about by that conflict: military aviation, tanks, machine guns and the use of mustard gas. He described each in detail, revealing that when the French introduced tanks they were so named in order for any intercepted communication to be mistaken for “water tanks” or other non-military use during their development and deployment. Later, he said the British designated “male tanks” and “female tanks,” based on their armament.
Monteton also shared various facts about World War I, including a makeshift method to avert the effects of mustard gas by breathing through cloth saturated with one’s own urine and the TNT poisoning by fumes in factories that changed the female workers’ skin color to yellow, hence the name “canary girls.” He also described the extraordinary service of Sidney Lewis, who managed to enlist at age 12, fought in three battles, and was discharged at age 13 upon discovery of his age.
Wednesday’s ceremony concluded with prayer, a 12-gun black powder musket salute from four members of the local chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and the playing of taps.
Michael Bullington is a history buff and 34-year resident of Citrus Heights. He also represents Guardian Life Insurance Company of America and Park Avenue Securities, LLC.
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