FERNLEY — Their arrival coincided with the beginning of this year’s Memorial Day remembrance at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery north of Fernley.
A small platoon of veterans marched onto the cemetery grounds May 29 with more than 7,000 dog tags placed in three ruck sacks. Each dog tag represented an American service man or woman killed in the Global War on Terror either in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Another veteran, a retired senior Navy chief who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, marched near the front of the pavilion with a backpack holding 150 dog tags, representative of the number of Vietnam War men and women with ties to the Silver State.
Looking on were Gov. Joe Lombardo, himself a veteran who served in the active Army, U.S. Army Reserve and the Nevada Army National Guard, and Maj. Gen. Ondra Berry, Nevada’s adjutant general. Playing music throughout the ceremony was the Truckee River Brass Quintet.
As ruck marchers walked closer to the pavilion, thunderous applause from a record attendance of 4,475 visitors welcomed the veterans. Others shouted welcome home, a greeting of acceptance for Vietnam vets who served in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Emotion overwhelms Navy vet
Navy veteran Hugh Peterson, who carried the Vietnam veterans’ dog tags on U.S. 50 and eventually onto the cemetery grounds, was overwhelmed with emotion. His eyes became misty.
“I’m proud to carry these dog tags for Nevada’s fallen Vietnam veterans,” he said, his voice breaking. “I still get choked up. I was overwhelmed.”
Peterson said Vietnam veterans were treated poorly when they returned home. Protestors spat on them or called them baby killers. Others ignored them. He said the veterans from that era weren’t treated well, and although Peterson completed his task of carrying the dog tags, their memories will remain with him.
“I carry them in my heart every day,” he said of the Vietnam vets.
Lombardo soaked in the enthusiasm of Monday’s crowd who welcomed him to his first Memorial Day remembrance.
“What a great day of remembrance,” said Lombardo, who’s the first governor to serve in the military since U.S. Air Force veterans Jim Gibbons 15 years ago and Bob Miller in the 1990s.
Before he expanded on his comments, Lombardo invited Marine Corps veteran Felipe Gutierrez De Alba, program coordinator for the Veterans Resource Center at Truckee Meadows Community College, to explain the purpose behind this year’s Operation Battle Born’s Ruck to Remember march. He said current and former student veterans from Northern Nevada and UNLV carried the dog tags, and the UNLV veterans finished their walk with a two-mile trek to the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Boulder City.
Gutierrez said the local group began their 60-mile march on Saturday in increments from behind the capitol in Carson City, through Dayton and then to Fort Churchill. On Sunday, the veterans marched to the Out of Town Park and returned Monday for the final mile to the NNVMC.
“This year we wanted to do something special,” he said.
Those who came before them
Gutierrez acknowledged the Vietnam War veterans who came before him and the others.
“We love you guys,” he said.
Gutierrez said it’s important to honor the Vietnam War veterans who came before them. A Marine sergeant who served in Iraq, Gutierrez ensured the dog tags were displayed and then presented to the governor after his speech.
Lombardo returned to the podium and then deflected many of his remarks to thank the veterans and various organizations who made the day possible, beginning with Nevada Veterans Coalition President Rick Rose, master of ceremonies Darin Farr and Sharon Serenko, who offered the prayer. The governor followed with recognition for the Nevada Veterans Coalition members and honor guard, local civic leaders, the Nevada Department of Veterans Services and its Director Fred Wagar, and finally to Berry.
“He’s such a good partner,” Lombardo said of Berry. “He’s done so much for the National Guard in Nevada.”
Lombardo said it was a privilege for him to stand alongside the veterans and guests to remember Memorial Day and for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. He honored the fallen warriors for their sacrifices and memories and said their lives live forever.
Reflections of the day
This year’s ceremonies also honored the Gold Star families — mothers and fathers, siblings and possibly the children who survived the fallen veteran.
“Their loss is irreplaceable. Their courage insurmountable,” Lombardo said. “We will always remember what your family has given to their country.”
As he finished his remarks, Lombardo encouraged veterans and their families to shake hands with him after the ceremony so he could thank them for their service. Gutierrez and Lombardo then placed the ceremonial wreath at a memorial located in front of a tent providing shade to the attendees.
Veterans from every modern-day era reflected on Memorial Day. Retired Army Sgt. First Class Justin Kandarian of Fernley, who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said it was an honor to be with veterans from different eras.
“Think about what these people did and went through during their service of time,” Kandarian said after skimming over the names and time of service etched on the headstones. “I just want to sit there and think what they did but in a different era. I have nothing but respect for them.”
Kandarian saw his share of fighting and bloodshed in Iraq, having fought at Fallujah, one of the bloodiest battles, in 2004. He also served in Afghanistan.
The retired soldier said he was moved by Lombardo’s conclusion, who cited former President Ronald Reagan’s words of “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
Kandarian said seeing the current state of the nation makes him wonder why his friends died for their country.
“I pray their sacrifices were not in vain,” he said, adding the governor’s words caused him to think about those who died and will never see their loved ones or have a family.
Elizabethh Price, who walked with Kandarian in the section behind the pavilion, also enlisted in the Army and completed her training at the former post Fort McClellan near Anniston, Alabama. She wanted to read the names on the headstones of the men and women who didn’t have visitors for Memorial Day. When she sees the inscription of Vietnam, she develops a strong response.
“They don’t get the respect they deserve,” she said after looking a headstone for a Vietnam veteran. “When they got home, they were treated horribly.”
Sharon Buckley of Indian Hills southeast of Carson City paid her respects to her father and mother who are interred together near the pavilion. She knelt down at the headstone before the ceremony began. Like so many family members, they never knew what a family member did during a war, and the same could be said for Buckley who never discussed his military service.
Donald Berry, who was born in 1933 and died Jan. 9, 2013, was very patriotic, said his daughter. He served in the Army and left as a private first class.
“My dad … he was my stepdad. He raised me. My parents married right before I turned 5. They had been together a year before,” Buckley explained.
Yet, behind the man was a story but not from the military. Buckley said Berry treated her as his own and adopted her, and her mother, Mary, and Berry had a son together, nine years younger than Buckley. Her stepdad worked for Ford Aerospace in Newport Beach, Calif., and when he retired, the family eventually worked their way to Nevada.
This year was a little more painful than any of her previous visits. A year ago in early January, Buckley said her mother wanted to visit the NNVMC because of Berry’s birthdate, but the cold weather prevented them from making the one-hour trip.
“She knew something was going in, and her health didn’t allow her to come out in the cold,” Buckley recalled.
Several days later, her mother died without visiting Donald’s resting place. Coincidentally, Mary also died on Jan. 9, nine years to the day after her husband’s.