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A solemn day to remember

Veterans, families remember fallen service members

Dozens of flags snapped in the breeze Monday as hundreds gathered for a Memorial Day ceremony at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake.

Bonnie Hunter sat on a concrete bench with daughter Jenni Ham and grandson Jared Fretheim. Her husband, Lt. Col. Daniel K. Hunter, died in January and is buried in the cemetery. He served in the Army for 23 years, Hunter said, and it was his dedication to the military that drew her to Monday’s ceremony. “It meant a lot to him,” she said.

The experience meant even more because the family was there together, Ham said. “We do everything that way, together,” she said.

According to his obituary, Hunter graduated from West Valley High School in 1966. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Finance Corps in 1970 after completing the Eastern Washington University ROTC training program. The Army stationed him in West Berlin and in Chicago before he joined the Army Reserves in 1976. He retired from the Reserves in 1993.

Navy veteran Darrell Sullens attended the ceremony with fellow members of the Farragut Base Submarine Veterans group. He served for four years aboard the USS Pickerel. Sullens said he has been attending every Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery since it opened, “just to honor those folks that have gone before us.”

The ceremony got a late start, which meant that the flyover by four yellow-winged Stearman biplanes went unannounced. The crowd still clapped and cheered in appreciation as the planes flew overhead. The RiversEdge Chorus sang a medley of old songs that had some veterans in the crowd clapping along.

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said she wanted to show gratitude to service members and their families.

“It’s not just a job,” she said. “It’s a family commitment.”

McMorris Rodgers also spoke of the three Air Force crew members stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base who died this month in a plane crash in Kyrgyzstan. “Let us remember those heroes that have fought,” she said.

The three crew members also were recognized by Spokane Mayor David Condon. “It’s easy to take liberty for granted and forget the price that has been paid,” he said. “Freedom is not free. Our community was recently reminded of that price.”

Former Navy corpsman Dick Gruell drew a standing ovation from the crowd after he spoke. He was 18 when he landed on a beach at Sicily during World War II and made another landing at Omaha Beach during the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion. His speech was at times obscured by the brisk wind, but the crowd hung on every word.

“I lost my best friend right next to me on the beach,” Gruell said. The Omaha Beach landing is a blur for Gruell after he spent days treating the wounded. “I don’t remember the first three or four days at all,” he said. “I don’t know how we did it.”

Gruell said people try to call him a hero, but he doesn’t consider himself one. That title, he said, belongs to the people like his best friend, who made the ultimate sacrifice.