Nearly 200 people, both veterans and their families, packed the upstairs conference room at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis on Friday afternoon to celebrate both Veterans Day and the museum’s 25th anniversary.
Veterans Memorial Museum Executive Director Chip Duncan began the ceremony by explaining what made him the “black sheep” of his family.
“I am not a veteran. Some people who don’t know that come up and say ‘thank you for your service,’ and I don’t deserve that. If you did that today it’s OK, but don’t do it again. I’m literally the ‘black sheep’ of the family,” Duncan said. “My father was a Vietnam-era veteran, his father flew B-24s in World War II, his father fought in the trenches of World War I, his father served in the Spanish-American War, his father served in the Civil War, his father served in the Mexican-American War, his father served in the War of 1812 and his father served in 1776.”
He also spoke about the sacrifices service members make, from the sacrifice of personal comfort by having to live in crowded barracks to the sacrifice of being separated from family and friends.
“I’ve never served, but my passion and my heart remains (dedicated) to the men and women who decided to put on the uniform of this nation and have given a portion of their lives, or sometimes their entire lives, to the defense of our nation,” Duncan said.
The museum’s founder, Lee Grimes, then spoke about how he’s seen the museum grow over the years. Grimes originally started the museum by collecting the stories and memorabilia of veterans he knew and began displaying them in a small storefront, which he quickly realized was too small.
“The Lord told me to open this place up 26 years ago, and I said ‘why me?’ and ‘who am I?’ and ‘how are we gonna do this?’ but you listen to what the Lord says and he will guide your way, he will open doors and this is the result 25 years later. It was to honor you veterans who have served, to say ‘thank you,’ and to remember your stories and sacrifices,” Grimes said.
He added that if it weren’t for the sacrifices of veterans, the museum would not be standing today, ending his speech with a poem he wrote titled “who will remember.”
“Who will remember the Vietnam War, fought for so many years. Young men died and women cried, and at home there were no tears. Pleiku, Parrot’s Beak, Da Nang, Phu Bai, Ben Het, Fishhook, the Tet and Chu Lia. Khe Sanh, Mekong, DMZ and Cam Ranh Bay, Rockpile, Tunnel Rats, Hamburger Hill and Huê. And who will remember these, will it be only those who were there?” Grimes said.
Retired Air Force colonel and Centralia High School graduate Patrick Taylor traveled from his home in Las Vegas to speak at the anniversary celebration.
“On this special commemorative day, our nation celebrates veterans. Veterans who come from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, experiences and, I might add, all with memorable stories to remember their achievements, their courage and their dedication,” Taylor said.
Taylor said many veterans carry unseen scars and encouraged them to share their stories to help with the healing process. He also thanked the families of veterans for their sacrifices. He recounted his own military experience to those in attendance, from his days as a flight instructor sharing combat radio recordings from flights over Vietnam to later serving with the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron flying RC-135s and traveling the world for missions, running into veterans wherever he went.
He said his interactions with veterans while he served, particularly the Vietnam veterans, was why he believed it was important to thank veterans. During one trip to the Pentagon, he ran into Honor Flight volunteers at the airport, some of whom were Vietnam veterans.
“Each one held out his right hand and thanked me for my service. I remember it vividly to this day. I said to the group of Vietnam volunteers gathered around, ‘you all might find this interesting but I get a lot of Vietnam veterans who thank me when I’m in uniform, and I just want to return it and say thank you for your service,’” said Taylor. “It was quiet for what seemed like forever, and then one of them looked at me with cloudy eyes and said, ‘we all thank because we never got that when we came home and we want to ensure every veteran is treated with honor, dignity and respect.’”
He said the comment broke his heart, and to this day pained him to read.
“Our elected officials stained an entire generation of veterans who took an oath and served when their country called, yet abandoned them when they returned. The least we can do is thank them for their service,” Taylor said.
Aside from the speakers, four veterans, including Taylor, were presented with quilts made by Quilts of Valor Foundation. Quilts of Valor is a national organization that to date has given out 326,777 quilts to veterans since it was started in 2003.
The Napavine High School band performed the services’ hymns as well as a rendition of Taps, and Johnny Dunnagan sang renditions of America The Beautiful and an original song of his own, titled Standing Tall.
Duncan ended the ceremony with a call to all veterans to seek counseling and to know they are not alone as the veteran suicide rate in America continues to rise.
“A lot of you maybe have heard in the last three years or so about Project 22, the statistic that on a daily basis 22 veterans take their lives. Thanks to things that have happened, we’re now up to and closing in on 44,” Duncan said.
He said the museum has resources available, including peer counseling for veterans. Duncan said that veterans have repeatedly told him they don’t feel like psychologists they talked to understand where they came from.
“That’s why we have launched peer counseling here. If you want to seek counseling here, you will be talking to a fellow veteran,” Duncan said.
The Veterans Memorial Museum offers other resources for veterans too including support for Veterans Affairs claims, access to free dental care and as of Dec. 12 will have a full-time veterans service officer on staff.
To learn more, visit https://www.veteransmuseum.org.