Memorial Day purists gather for traditional observance
United States Air Force veteran Tommy Key, from left, U.S. Marine veterans Richard Raker, Rick Boatwright, and Vint Stevenson present the colors Tuesday during the Shasta County Veterans Affiliated Council Memorial Service at the Veterans Memorial Grove. (Photo: Greg Barnette/Record Searchlight
The Shasta County Veterans Affiliated Council hosted a Memorial Day observance Tuesday at the Veterans Memorial Grove in Redding.
Sixty-eight-year-old Dennis Ellis of Redding was deep in thought Tuesday as he sadly gazed upon a large poster displaying the names and photos of those 46 Shasta County residents killed in the Vietnam War.
Some of them were his classmates.
The 1967 Central Valley High School graduate enlisted in the the U.S. Army after getting his draft notice, serving on a helicopter gunship in Vietnam in 1969-70.
And, he said, he knows quite well how he managed to return home after his exceptionally dangerous tour of duty.
“By the grace of God,” he said.
Ellis was one of hundreds who turned out Tuesday for a solemn Memorial Day observance hosted by the Shasta County Veterans Affiliated Council at the Veterans Memorial Grove near the Redding Convention Center.
Although most Memorial Day services were held on Monday, the veterans group always holds its observance on the traditional May 30 Memorial Day date.
Mike Dahl, a former Redding mayor and U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, was its keynote speaker.
“Today, the traditional Memorial Day, is our annual tribute to honor and remember those who died while serving in our U.S. military,” he said. “Memorial Day is not a cheerful holiday or extended weekend. It is not a kick-off to summer. It is not about beer and barbecue. Today is a sacred and solemn time for reflection, commemoration and remembrance.”
It was also turned out to be a day to help pay tribute to a group of unsung war veterans who fought alongside their U.S. allies to fight communist forces during the brutal Vietnam War.
Dahl recognized local Lao, Mien and Hmong veterans and their families for the sacrifices they made.
Wan Chao and San Tern, both 64 and of Redding, were among those honored, saying they felt very proud to have done their part to help America.
Dahl said the Lao veterans were an army of "special guerilla units" recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to fight with the U.S. forces against the communists by destroying supply lines used by the North Vietnamese army.
"Like us, they fought and died in the same war against the same enemy," he said. "Like us, their families grieved losses of loved ones.Together we served. Together we fought. Together we sacrificed. And together, today, we are all Americans."
Chao, who said he's lived in Redding for more than 30 years, said he lost many family members during that terrible war.
"I'm one of the lucky ones," he said.
The Memorial Day observance also paid special tribute to the families of the fallen and Gold Star Mothers, including Shirene Regelin, whose son, Chad, was killed in 2012 in Afghanistan.
Chad Regelin, a U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class, would have turned 30 on May 30.
"Behind every gravestone, behind every name on the Wall, behind every war monument, there is a grieving family." Dahl said.