Vets honored in solemn but short ceremony
With a light snow falling and against the backdrop of Park City’s mountains, the hallowed verses of "America the Beautiful" softly emanated from the Olympic Welcome Plaza, sung by a small group of people honoring the country’s veterans.
The ceremony, marking Veterans Day on Saturday, drew just seven people but was moving nonetheless, with a World War II veteran talking about his experiences and a leading member of Park City’s peace movement speaking of the importance of America’s soldiers.
Shepherd of the Mountains Pastor Jeffrey Louden, who led the ceremony, acknowledged that he has opposed the Bush administration’s Iraqi war but said he participated on Saturday to honor the soldiers. They give up their family life and sometimes when they return they find their lives have been shattered, Louden said.
He said he stands in solidarity with the soldiers and that they should be welcomed back when they return from their tours of duty. He gave thanks for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
"When people serve overseas in the military for their country, they oftentimes do it out of a sense of honor and duty," Louden says in an interview after the ceremony.
The ceremony lasted a few minutes and was notable for its lack of boisterous speeches and partisan comments. The Welcome Plaza has been the site of a series of peace demonstrations organized by people opposing the Iraqi war.
Ralph Gates, a World War II veteran who worked on the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb, remembers in an interview afterward five neighbors of his in Nashville, Tenn., who were killed in World War II, including in the famous battles of D-Day, Midway and Guadalcanal.
"They were close friends and neighbors," he says.
Another person at the ceremony talked about a family friend who died in the Iraqi war.
They participated in a moment of silence, honoring the troops killed in battle, those who have been injured and their families. They honored those still serving as well.
The ceremony occurred four days after Election Day, when Democrats won majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate in an election that was seen as a rebuke of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq. The people there, though, did not delve into the politics of Election Day.
Louden, who says he voted but refused to say who received his support, says he was happy with the turnout on Election Day.
"I was pleased because there were so many people who turned out for a midterm election," he says.
Louden has participated in peace rallies starting in the months leading to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In 2002, before the war, he says a water balloon struck him during a peace event at the Kearns Boulevard-Park Avenue intersection. He says that the troops have sacrificed while most Americans have not been asked to do so.
"I honor the people. I don’t necessarily honor the policies," he says.
Louden says a solution to Iraq is perplexing. He does not offer a plan for the continuing occupation nor does he talk about a desired timetable for U.S. troops to leave the country.
"I don’t have that wisdom. However we can limit the amount of people who die on both sides, that would be great," he says.
Gates, the 81-year-old World War II veteran, wants America to fight terrorism and says that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is "the focal point" of what he sees as militant Islam.
"We can’t just say it’s small and it’s not going to happen," he says.
He worries about people he labels "impractical idealists" who say that there will not be another terrible war.
"People think mankind has advanced farther than it has," he says. "Every generation, we run into a new evil."
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