EUGENE, Ore. — Wherever you go on Veterans’ Day 2011 here in the Eugene area there were plenty of flags waving and, more importantly for veterans, “lots of love and respect,” that I know I and other vets felt, and it’s very nice indeed,” said Eugene veteran Marie who served in Iraq after Desert Storm.
“I’ve heard all those horror stories from our Vietnam War vets who said they were treated like dogs when they returned home to Eugene after Vietnam. So it’s nice to get all those warm fuzzies when folks learn that I’m a vet. It really means a lot to be appreciated for serving one’s country,” Marie adds with watered eyes after attending a Veterans Day event in downtown Eugene.
Moreover, she says it sends “the right message to our kids that duty, honor and country are still what we are about on this beautiful day with so many flags blowing in the wind around town on just a beautiful fall day.”
“Celebration of Honor” delights & heals veterans
While there are many Veterans Day events in the Eugene area Nov. 11, the one that many Eugene area veterans enjoy a lot takes place each fall in late September up the coast in Lincoln City.
“I usually bring a van load of friends from Eugene to the Lincoln City ‘Celebration of Honor’ because it’s sort of like an Oregon Country Fair for vets with five days of fun and activities that are all free, and done with a lot of class,” adds Marie.
They arrived by the thousands for something veterans call “healing,” and “closure,” although many who attended the annual “Celebration of Honor” at Chinook Winds Casino and Resort Sept. 22 to 25, found “more love and fellowship than any closure because we will never forget out mates,” said Jeff, a former Marine from Eugene who spent many hours reflecting about his military service in Iraq during this annual tribute for all veterans hosted by the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and the Lincoln City community.
Local community goes all out for veterans
“This is something we do with pleasure each year. It’s part of the ‘warrior spirit’ of the Siletz and it’s also about thanking the people who make it possible for our everyday lives because the military protects us,” explained Sar Richards, general manager of Chinook Winds, led the opening ceremony events that included presentations of the Oregon Honorable Service Medal for veterans who served in World War II, the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars, as well as current local military members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Richards also thanked Teresa Simmons who, along with her late husband Frank, was part of the Chinook Winds team that helped start this annual “Celebration of Honor” some eight years ago. “It’s difficult to find the words to thank Teresa for her efforts, but she’s done so much for this event that we prepare for all year.”
After reminding locals and visitors that freedom isn’t free, and veterans need to be thanked for their duty while going in harm’s way for America, Richards pointed to the “Moving Wall,” a half-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. that was featured near Chinook Winds Casino during this year’s celebration of honor events.
At the same time, locals and visitors said it was heartening that the casino’s 800 plus employees are also backing this annual event. “It’s something this casino can take real pride in. I know it always means a lot for me to see the soldiers and their families around our resort so happy. It gives me pride to see them in their uniforms,” explained one Chinook Winds employee.
Moving Wall much more than just an exhibit
In turn, visitors to the Moving Wall said it was both “very special” to them because they’ve not been able to get back East to visit the original Vietnam War Memorial. “It really pulls at your heart to read all those 58,000 names of our GI’s who served and died in Vietnam,” said Lewis, a Gulf War veteran from Lincoln City.
While hundreds turned out for ceremonies in and around the Moving Wall, it was those late-night candlelight vigils with veterans crying and sitting for hours looking at the Vietnam War Memorial that “really gets to you,” noted Simmons who also pointed to a multitude of events that took place during this year’s “Celebration of Honor,” including:
- Ride of Honor at the Moving Wall
- Presentation of the Oregon Veteran’s Medals
- The release of “wish lanterns” over the Pacific in memory of veterans who’ve passed
- Motorcycles participating in the “Gold Star Ride”
- Tanks on static display in front of the Chinook Winds Casino and on parade in downtown Lincoln City
- Siletz tribal drumming and Tribal Honor Guard ceremonies
- Presentation of wreaths for fallen military members
- Moving presentations with bagpipes
- Dozens of community events in Lincoln City where locals “treated vets like family”
- Reading of the names of Oregon KIAs of the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq
Veterans of Oregon “Field of Honor” featuring 1,000 American flags on display
Against a backdrop of 1,000 American flags and the striking panorama of the Pacific Ocean, a former Marine named Jeff walked slowly amongst the “Field of Honor” to find “some peace and meaning with the loss of my buddies back during Operation Desert Storm.”
Jeff said he was “deeply moved” after entering ‘this realm of 1,000 flags. One can’t help but recall those who we served with in war. Being in the Marines for me was all about taking care of that guy next to me. Because I lost some of my men in that war in Iraq I’m forever haunted by their memories. Coming to this event at Chinook Winds was very special and important for me. I feel better because I’m with my men again,” he explained while weeping publically.
This section of the Chinook Winds Casino Resort property is reserved each year for what’s been dubbed as the “Field of Honor,” consisting of 1,000 American flags that serve as a reminder to all that this last week in September is reserved for the annual “Celebration of Honor” events in Lincoln City.
Also, after hearing so many stories about how important this annual event is for veterans and families, Lincoln City local Carol said “I realized how much we citizens can do for our troops by just being there and offering our love and respect. This celebration does our community good, and it makes us proud that the community and Chinook Winds really know how to take care of people.”
At the same time, dozens of Oregon National Guardsmen – many in their early 20’s — beamed with pride as the crowd both applauded their service and thanked them individually after the opening ceremony.
Celebration of Honor calls all veterans back to share with their friends
Chinook Winds Casino Resort has established itself as the “place for veterans,” because of this annual Celebration of Honor event. The casino also features a large memorial to Gulf War veterans that’s in front of the casino. Locals in Lincoln City think this patriotic out-pouring “is strictly sincere and not any sort of advertising gimmick,” said retired Air Force Master Sgt. Bill Thompson, who returned again this year to “celebrate with my fellow veterans.”
“I served on the Air Force honor guard when I was a young troop, and during my 27 years on active duty I’ve seen many, many tributes for our veterans. And, I’m talking Arlington Cemetery and the lot, but nothing has watered my eyes as much as this celebration here. I think Chinook Winds has really set the standard for honoring all our veterans,” explained Thompson, while speaking passionately about what he witnessed during the five day tribute.
Steven, a Vietnam War veteran, concurred with Thompson and many others who had high praise for an event that’s been called one of the largest and most comprehensive week long celebrations for veterans in America today.
Steven, 69, travels each year to the “Celebration of Honor” from his home in nearly Portland. “I joined the Army so I could be with my brother and cousin who were also going in. Now, I stand here – with water in my eyes – because I’m reading their names on this Vietnam War Memorial. You have no idea how important it is to be here,” added Steven who sat by the “Wall” each night until dawn, with his wife Gina coming to collect him with hot coffee and blankets.
“He needs to find answers,” quipped his wife. “He’s been to the VA clinics and has PTSD. There’s no medicine better in my view for Steven than being here today at the Celebration of Honor.”
Celebration events keep veterans moving and happy
While some older veterans had to walk rather than run during the annual “Celebration of Honor” 5K/Walk of Honor sponsored by Chinook Winds Casino and Resort, it was “more about having this time to spend together. Our lives have become so busy, and if not for this annual event at Chinook Winds, I don’t know if I’d be talking about Tom, Paul and others who died in Iraq while I somehow survived,” explains Jon of nearby Newport, Oregon.
“I think we need these kinds of events so our young people will remember who laid down their lives for this country,” added Jon while holding hands with his son James who’s set for deployment to Iraq in December.
“We wanted our James with us today so we could share with him this band of brothers that is our U.S. military. While I served as a sergeant, James is a new U.S. Army second lieutenant who needs this exposure to military pride that this celebration event does so well. It’s really a God-send because it’s not just a day or two, but almost a week of things to do that allow us to meet and greet other veterans who feel the same as we do about our service,” added Jon who says “this event really hits home.”
In turn, Jon exclaims that “everyone should come to Lincoln City and Chinook Winds Casino for this annual event because “it’s not just a tribute to us veterans, but a tribute to the heart of what’s right in America today and that’s always been duty, honor and country.”