Prospect Elementary School music teacher Al Zeller prepares to play for the crowd during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Eagle Point National Cemetery while members of the Young Marines of Southern Oregon stand at attention in the foreground. Hundreds gathered under rainy skies for the event. - Jamie Lusch

Honoring the fallen

Storms clouds dropping intermittent rain didn't dampen the spirit at the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Eagle Point National Cemetery on Monday.

An overflow crowd, albeit some armed with umbrellas, gathered for the event, which included everything from bagpipes to speeches.

"This makes me feel so good to see all these people here," observed Jim Hanley, 89, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1833 in Medford, as he looked out at the crowd.

The yearly gathering awakens lost memories, said Hanley who served as ball turret gunner aboard a B-17 bomber in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.

"There is a lot in my head that I can't get to much anymore," he said. "But this ceremony and these people here help bring it back. It's wonderful to see this crowd."

While the ceremony followed tradition, there was a new twist: instead of two Oregon Air National Guard F-15 fighter jets roaring over, three helicopters rumbled by in salute. The jets had been grounded for the event because of federal budget cutbacks, officials said.

But tradition followed suit for the rest of the event, right down to the mournful sound of "Amazing Grace," played by a member of the Southern Oregon Scottish Bagpipe Band.

"The Navy and the Air Force ordered the weather," began master of ceremonies Mark Dalton, a first sergeant with the local Oregon Army National Guard unit.

"The Coast Guard loves it; the Marines don't care," he added, prompting a round of laughter to ripple through the crowd.

But Dalton, who served two tours in Iraq, was dead serious about the patriotic occasion.

And he was quick to thank those who braved the inclement weather to attend,

"We are not barbecuing right now," Dalton observed. "We are not watching a movie. We are not playing baseball. We come out here and sit, and take a sober moment to remember the honor and virtue of men and women in uniform."

Similar sentiments were echoed by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who represents the 2nd Congressional District. Both reached across the political aisle to make the point that politicians, such as those in the military, need to work together for the good of the country.

"This national cemetery, like all of them across the country, reminds us that freedom is fragile and has never been cheap," Wyden said. "The graves around us represent Oregonians who served and paid the price with their lives.

"Our country has always depended on their service because ours is a hard-earned freedom," he added, noting that includes those from all branches of the military who served from the Revolutionary War to the Middle East.

More than 30,000 Oregonians have served in Afghanistan or Iraq, or both, he said.

"Over 130 of them did not come back except to a solemn place like this," he said.

One of those was Marine Sgt. Matthew DeYoung of Talent who was killed in Afghanistan on Feb. 18, 2011, Wyden said, noting the 26-year-old is buried in the cemetery.

"It doesn't come as much of a surprise that Sergeant DeYoung died in the arms of his best friend, Sgt. Lee Harris," Wyden said, referring to DeYoung's enthusiasm for the Corps. Fellow Marine Harris is from Medford, although the two never met until they joined the Corps.

"No doubt the sergeant (DeYoung) would be embarrassed by all this attention," Wyden added. "Like so many who have served, he would have just said he was answering the call, doing his job."

Stories like DeYoung's needs to be told to succeeding generations so that people do not forget the sacrifices, he stressed.

"It is particularly important that, while a decade of wars may be winding down, our commitment to the men and women in uniform will and must endure," Wyden said, citing the backlog of medical claims by veterans from those wars.

Walden agreed.

"We are here today to honor our local heroes and say to the memory of those heroes, their families, our community and the nation that we will never forget," he said. "I continue to be humbled by fellow Oregonians who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

"They are the heroes who continue in the long line of service and sacrifice who gave, in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, their last measure of devotion," he added.

Like Wyden, he stressed the need for providing promised benefits for veterans after they are out of uniform.

"We work together as Oregonians when it comes especially to our veterans," he said. "And he (Wyden) has been a great leader as we've all stood up for you to make sure you have got the education benefits, the health benefits and a job when you get back.

"We are doing everything we can do in a bipartisan way to get that done but we realize more work is ahead of us," he added.

In closing, Walden noted that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had told Allied troops about to begin the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 that the eyes of the world were upon them.

"When our soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines come home, the eyes of the world may turn elsewhere," Walden told the crowd. "But as citizens who benefit from the fruits of their courage, we are bound never, never to forget their sacrifice and their service."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or email him at

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