Support was the word of the day at Cambria’s annual Veterans Day commemoration: veterans’ support for one another and for the generations to come.
The 55-minute ceremony Tuesday, Nov. 11, at the Veterans Memorial Building featured an award presentation to Cambria’s Alan Doctor, a keynote speech by Col. Bob Wilson and prominent roles for the next generation — as represented by middle school students, Scouts and 4-H members.
“We need to support those that are coming down the path, those that are not yet in service,” said Dave Ehlers, commander of American Legion Post 432 and coordinator of the event. “We need to support them and their families.”
Col. Bob Wilson, the keynote speaker, encouraged those in the crowd of more than 200 to support “the next generation in what comes ahead.”
Wilson spoke of the support system forged in the military. Service members have always “got your six,” he said. The term, which originated with fighter pilots during World War I, refers to the rear of the airplane, the most vulnerable or 6 o’clock position. It’s another way of saying they watch each other’s back.
“They’ve forged a bond,” Wilson said of veterans. “It’s unique. If you’ve ever served, the men and women you served with, they’re lifelong.”
That turned out to be especially true for Wilson, who married a fellow officer, Col. Maureen Robles. The two moved to Cambria about a year ago. Wilson, who had been stationed at Camp San Luis Obispo in the mid-’80s, “fell in love with the area” and said he persuaded his wife to move to Cambria when the opportunity arose.
Wilson was drafted into the Navy in 1966 and stationed at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. He was later assigned to the Marine Corps field medical school and served in Vietnam with the Marines from 1969 to 1970 before receiving an honorable discharge.
More than a decade later, he signed up to serve in the Army as a nurse and served in the first Iraq war, where he recalled wearing a chemical suit for as long as 10 hours at a time while treating patients.
But his most memorable experience, he told the audience, came in Vietnam, when he contracted malaria during the monsoon season.
“They couldn’t get a helicopter in for medevac (medical evacuation),” he recalled. “We were pretty much stuck on a hill for about five days. At night, members of my platoon would go through and drop off a poncho liner to me. That is like your prized possession. No one gives you their poncho liner.”
But those serving with Wilson did just that. Wilson said it was emblematic of the support service members show one another.
“You became a brotherhood. They did anything for you, and you did anything for them,” he told the audience. “They gave me values that I’d never be able to replace in my civilian life.”
Those values were being passed along to the younger generation, some of whom gave presentations Tuesday.
Those speaking included Santa Lucia Middle School students Melody Robertson and Hannah Chaffin; Tori Ehlers, who recited “What is a Veteran,” and Meg Stern, who read a short poem dedicated to veterans. Sequoia Friedman and Jack May led the Pledge of Allegiance.
After the keynote address, Dave Ehlers presented the Don Bowman Patriotism Award to John Angel, a World War II veteran who has been active in Cambria as a member of the Community Services District board and an elder in the Presbyterian Church.
As chaplain for Post 432, he also delivered the invocation and presented the Army’s colors Tuesday.
“I don’t usually have any problem in public speaking, but your really got me on this one,” Angel said in accepting the award.
Also presenting the colors for their respective branches were veterans Jerry McKinnon (Coast Guard), Lou Fedor (Merchant Marine), Don Cowles (Air Force), Coral Smith (Navy) and Lou Estrada (Marines).
The event featured the playing of taps by Alan Doctor, the national anthem performed by Melanie Gruber, and renditions of “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” by the Cambria Men’s Chorus.