The City of Cottage Grove conducted its annual Memorial Day ceremony on May 25, part of which was broadcast virtually without audience to stay in compliance with coronavirus-related restrictions on gatherings.
“It’s our first ever doing a virtual ceremony and hopefully our last doing a virtual ceremony,” said Mayor Jeff Gowing as he welcomed viewers.
The event, hosted in partnership with American Legion Post 32 and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 3473, was broadcast live on South Lane Community Broadcasting channel 14.4. and streamed on the city’s Youtube channel.
Following an opening prayer on the topic of sacrifice by Pastor Rulon Combs and a performance of the national anthem by Cora Branstetter, Gowing spoke to the spirit of the national holiday.
“So many have given so much for our freedom. So many have paid the price with their own life,” he said.
Gowing paid respects not only to service members who died in combat, but those who returned home only to lose their lives to psychological pain, depression or complications from the chemical warfare herbicide Agent Orange.
Gowing also referenced the list of names read each year of local service members who have passed.
“The older I get, those names turn from just names to someone I’ve known for years. This year is no different and has become even more impacting to me,” said Gowing, whose father, great-uncle and friends were included in the reading this year.
Keynote speaker Colonel Francis Scott Main, who was commissioned from 1985 to 2015, delivered a speech on the broadcast.
Main spoke of his memories of past Memorial Days growing up in Cottage Grove and told the story of his neighbor, Joe King, who served as a sailor on the USS Ward. Main recounted how, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Wickes-class destroyer sunk a two-man midget submarine tailing a cargo ship off the entrance to Pearl Harbor, thus becoming responsible for the first American-caused casualties of World War II.
“I looked for a person to talk of this Memorial Day of the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen and Coast Guard, who I served with, or whom had died during Panama, the First Gulf War, Somalia, the Second Gulf War, Afghanistan and then back to Iraq.
“Not mention those that died in other conflicts peacekeeping, providing peace enforcement, humanitarian assistance, or security assistance, during my time in service,” said Main. “I choose a man who has died during peace, but served his country well during the Second World War from our community. May he and others not be forgotten.”
Main also encouraged the public to examine the multiple lists of war casualties for Lane County.
“Those we memorialize on Memorial Day, some will fade in time from Cottage Grove and the surrounding community when families move. Or the fallen perhaps were the only sons or daughters and they slip from our memory,” he said. “They should never be forgotten, as they have made the ultimate sacrifice to allow us to continue to live with the rights and privileges we enjoy.”
Meanwhile, an Oregon Air National Guard flyover of the PeaceHealth Cottage Grove Community Medical Center was performed by F-15 Eagle pilots from the 173rd Fighter Wing out of Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls.
“The flyovers are … aimed at supporting and thanking healthcare workers, first responders and other essential workers who are working to keep Oregonians safe and healthy each day,” the Air National Guard said in a statement. “The tribute also hopes to unify and boost the spirits of Oregonians and to recognize military members who have lost their lives in service to our country.”
The flyovers were part of “Operation: American Resolve,” aimed at saluting those at the forefront of the COVID-19 response. Twelve other flyovers were performed in the area.
VFW Commander Kristine Sweezy then read a list of fallen veterans from the community, which was followed by a 21-gun salute and a performance of “Taps” at Veterans Park.