Tribal Memorial Day events recognizes veterans

05.31.2011 Dean Rhodes Culture, People, Events

The sun and a light rain played tag all morning as hundreds joined in multiple Memorial Day observances sponsored throughout the West Valley by the Grand Ronde Tribe this year.

Dozens showed up for each of the four morning stops at local cemeteries while more than 100 people were on hand for the lunch in the Tribal Community Center at noon and the Memorial Day program at the West Valley Veterans' Memorial at 1 p.m.

"If a person could write a book with one story from every veteran," said Tribal Council Vice Chair Reyn Leno, who was master of ceremonies for the event, "that would be some book. But it wouldn't be what you'd expect. It would be stories of the families and stories of the buddies. You form a real brotherhood over there."

Many of those stories were recalled - if not actually told - this Memorial Day as visitors and veterans alike milled around the memorial, looking for names.

Vietnam vet Arthur DeHart of McMinnville posed for a photo with his grandsons, Jesse and Blake Proebstel, next to his name on the last available edge of the Army pillar.

"I recognize some of the names on here," said DeHart, "but I can't put a face on them." DeHart brought his wife of 45 years, Wanda, as well as in-laws Mark and Kerry Zimmerman with him for the observance. His uncle, Lindel (Mike) L. Hunt, a World War II veteran, also has his name up on the memorial.

Tribal Elder Debbie Leno Estrada of Huntington Beach, Calif., took pictures of the names of her father, former Tribal Elder Bud Leno, and three Leno uncles, all honored on the memorial.

The weekend also was planned to lay headstones at the graves of her father and former Tribal Elder Russ Leno and, as a result, Debbie missed her daughter's (Tribal member Danielle Estrada) graduation ceremony this weekend. Danielle graduated with a master's degree from Long Beach State University.

"We set aside a day each year to show respect to everyday people with extraordinary courage and heart," said Marine veteran and Tribal Council member Steve Bobb Sr. "We tend to make heroes of sports figures who are paid exorbitant salaries and flaunt bad behavior, but they're not heroes. They'll never witness the sight and sound of brave men dying. Veterans are doing it every day they serve, but they don't do it for money or fame. They do it for freedom. They gave up their lives yesterday so we can stand here today."

"I thank every veteran for the freedoms we have," said Tribal Council member Jack Giffen Jr.

"It all comes down to one word," said Tribal Council member Chris Mercier. "Thanks."

Tribal Council member Wink Soderberg said he joined the Navy so he could go to school. "Whatever the reason you join," he said, "it's a good choice."

Reyn Leno noted that he joined so he could take his first airplane ride. The plane he got in dropped him off in Vietnam, he said, and "It was all uphill from there."

Former Tribal Elder Marce Norwest was never far from this year's observance. Reyn Leno said he was a little uncomfortable emceeing without first asking Norwest about it.

Tribal member Brent Merrill, who worked with Norwest in raising money for the memorial, invoked Marce's name as he asked the crowd to remember dozens of people without whose work the memorial would not yet be built.

Oregon Congressman David Wu noted in a letter read at the event that veterans "willingly and eagerly (chose) service over self and conviction over personal comfort," and complimented the Grand Ronde Tribe for its similar "ethic of integrity toward the earth and all of its multitudinous creatures. They too should be honored as teachers of a lifestyle that reflects our commitment to working with - and not against - our natural environment."

The reading of the new names added to the memorial included Tribal Elder and Marine veteran Alton Butler, reading the Marine Corps names; Soderberg reading the Navy names; Air Force veteran Bud White reading the Air Force names; and Tribal member and Army/Marine veteran Steve Rife reading the Army names.

Butler, who served in the Marines from 1969-80 and the Army from 1981-95, also honored two brothers who also were Marines, though they have since walked on.

White is one of four brothers, he said, all veterans whose names are inscribed on the memorial.

The ceremony included Grand Ronde Royalty members Nakoosa Moreland, Senior Miss; Makenzie Aaron, Junior Miss; Iyana Holmes, Little Miss; and princesses Isabel Grout, Madison Aaron, Amelia Mooney and Kallie Provost, and Amaryssa Mooney, who marched in behind the Honor Guard and performed "The Lord's Prayer."

This year's Honor Guard was led by Tribal Elder Steve Rife, who carried the Eagle staff; Norris Merrill, who carried the U.S. flag; Tribal Elder Gene LaBonte, who carried the Grand Ronde flag; Al Miller, who carried the PIO-MIA flag; and Chris Tinney (Lower Easter Cherokee) who carried the Oregon flag.

The Grand Ronde Canoe Family drummed as the Honor Guard posted the colors. Canoe Family members this year were Tribal member Bobby Mercier, his son, Tribal member Nokoa, and a young singer, Izaiah Fisher (Siletz), along with Tribal members Brian Krehbiel, Gregg Leno and Marcus Gibbons and Yakama Tribal member Richard Sohappy.

Honored as "special people" for the Tribe this year were two Tribal friends, former Polk County Commissioner Mike Propes and former Tribal employee Bruce Lattin, and Marce Norwest, all who have walked on.

Serving the noon meal of lasagna, vegetables, salad and garlic bread were Tribal Elders Julie Duncan, Cheri Butler, Gladys Hobbs, along with Tribal members Levi Liebelt and Jason Bailey. Tinney helped as did community member Virginia Barlow.

Tribal Public Affairs Director Siobhan Taylor helped the Veterans Committee organize the event.

"Our vets don't ask a heck of a lot," said Reyn Leno, "just one day's recognition. I'm proud that Native Americans hold veterans at the top."