As light train fell on a crowd gathered outside the Spokane Arena, former Fairchild Air Force Base commander Brian Newberry helped Vina Mikkelsen move a wreath to the front of the Pearl Harbor Memorial.
The wreath was placed in honor of Ray Garland, the Inland Northwest’s final surviving service member of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack that killed 2,403 people and triggered U.S. involvement in World War II.
Garland, a Marine Corps veteran, died in April at 96, and only three wives of survivors of the attack are alive today in the area. Among them is Mikkelsen, 88, who organizes the annual, local Pearl Harbor Day ceremony at the arena. Her husband, Denis, a U.S. Navy radioman, died in 2013.
Newberry calls these survivors and their families “giants” with a “collective iron will.”
Close to 100 survivors of the attack were a part of the Lilac City chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association at the group’s height. While they were alive, the veterans shared their memories at local schools, churches and bookstores on the anniversary of the attack.
“Today we stand here, resolute, to wish Ray one last salute, and all the survivors who came before him,” Newberry said during the ceremony on Saturday. He said later, “All the families like you understand true sacrifice.”
After a moment of silence, Lewis and Clark High School sophomore Adrian Arpin played “Taps” while eight members of the Fairchild honor guard stood at attention.
Arpin, asked by the school band director yesterday to perform at the ceremony, said he felt a sense of panic.
“It’s really reflective now to see how it impacted all of these people,” Arpin said. “And how many people just came came to remember.”
Mikkelsen said she plans to continue organizing the remembrance ceremony as long as she’s alive.
“I just feel we have to keep doing this,” she said. “We’ve had wars for forever. I wish we could stop.”
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