ELKO — A somber tone intermingled with one of elated gratitude during the Memorial Day Ceremony Monday at the Elko Cemetery.
Speaker Jeff Williams struck both of these emotions when he spoke to the crowd, numbering around 200.
Specifically, the profound sense of gratitude and loss came through in one piece of memorabilia in his noted personal museum: a photograph, which he bid on at the POW/MIA Chili Feed auction.
“Who could suppose your life would be so touched at a chili feed,” Williams said.
When Williams finally won the photograph, after a lengthy bidding war, he found why it was so touching.
He told the audience that he did not bring the picture because he wanted them to imagine it themselves, and what it would mean to them.
The photograph was of a boy being handed a folded flag, presumably the flag of his father, who had died overseas.
Williams’ voice tensed, seemingly on the brink of tears.
“What a sacrifice these people give, the members of these families,” he said.
The families, he said, made the ultimate sacrifice just as their loved ones had.
“Now for 200 years, this same scene has been played over and over again in the lives of the people of the United States,” he said.
Williams’ father was a veteran of World War II and never talked about it to his son.
When Williams asked his mother, she told him to leave well enough alone.
On a hunting trip, Williams asked his father about what had happened, about the things his father never talked to the family about: what he had done in the war.
“We had a frank, spiritual and personal talk about what he had done,” he said. “We should know he, like many people here, were honorable men and women who did the right thing at the right time.”
Near the beginning of the ceremony, master of ceremonies Gil Hernandez sent out a warm thanks to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Ladies Auxiliary for putting on the ceremony, as well as to the POW/MIA Awareness Association, the Elko High School Band and the Ruby Mountain Highlanders bagpipe players.
The VFW and the Ladies Auxiliary put between 400-500 American flags up at the graves of veterans, Hernandez said.
What it means to vets
Ron Walsh is a Korean War veteran, one of the few left at the Elko VFW post.
Walsh, wearing a blue blazer atop his white VFW uniform, gestured to his fellow VFW members and to the post.
“Memorial Day means the people right here and the people who showed up at the cemetery,” he said.
Walsh comes from a military family. His father, uncles, brother and son are serving or served in the military. Even his buddies in high school went into the forces, and two of his friends from high school died in Korea.
“What’s going on today is what Memorial Day is about,” he said, referring to the ceremony and the meal about to be grilled at the Post.
From Walsh’s time in Korea, one thing sticks out to him: the cold.
Walsh was in the Air Force as a crew chief for an F-94, which would fly at night.
The crew, trying to fuel up the planes, couldn’t even open their mouths to speak because they would freeze. Instead they had to use hand signals.
Everyone Walsh knew suffered from frostbite. He suffered it twice in his feet and once in his hands.
“The most I think about is the cold,” he said.
To State Senior Vice Commander Joe Rigsby of the VFW, Memorial Day means remembering the fallen troops.
“(They) made what we do every day possible,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have the things we got.”
Rigsby said the day is to thank veterans who have fallen in the past, present and future, as well as the still-living veterans and those who served, regardless of whether it was in a combat capacity.