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‘Protecting and serving’: Hundreds attend Memorial Day service at veterans cemetery

UPDATED: Tue., May 31, 2022

By Nick Gibson The Spokesman-Review

Brothers John and Jeremy Howard come from a long line of Army veterans. Both their father and uncle served during Desert Storm, and their grandpa served in the Vietnam War.

So it came as no surprise to their loved ones when they answered the call to service. Jeremy Howard was in the Marine Corps years ago, but his brother John is still an active duty member of the Army National Guard, stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base.

On Monday morning, the brothers made the journey to the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake for a Memorial Day service, and brought John’s girlfriend’s children along for the ride.

“I haven’t been to one since I was a kid, but now I’m old enough to really recognize the significance,” Jeremy Howard said. “And we brought the kids to help teach them why it’s important and not just a day off of school.”

More than 600 people attended Monday’s service in honor of Memorial Day, the first in-person ceremony held at the veterans cemetery in Medical Lake after a two -year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s ceremony featured speeches from local officials and veterans, a presentation of colors by an honor guard from Fairchild Air Force Base and performances from the Lilac City Community Band.

Rudy Lopez, director of the veterans cemetery, said it felt great to be able to host a proper ceremony after the last two were canceled.

Lopez was disappointed the ceremony was paused during the last two years of the pandemic, but understood the precautions were in place to protect vulnerable populations like the many senior veterans in attendance. He said the Memorial Day ceremony can be impactful for the loved ones left behind.

“We do this for the families; they need this,” Lopez said. “This helps with the closure process. It provides them comfort and helps them find closure,” Lopez said. “Many of the families might have just interred someone within this past year.”

This year’s keynote speech was delivered by retired Army Brigadier General Neal Sealock. Sealock was commissioned in 1974 as a Distinguished Military Graduate and served three tours of duty in China and two in the Pacific Rim. He served in several command roles before retiring in 2005, and later helped establish the cemetery in Eastern Washington.

Sealock thanked those in attendance, the staff at the veterans cemetery and the many individuals involved in the ceremony before getting to the heart of his speech. Sealock proposed a call to action to the group, stressing the importance of the national moment of remembrance that occurs at 3 p.m. each Memorial Day.

“I hope we can remember the link we have with all the generations that have come before us, who selflessly served our country and paid that ultimate sacrifice,” Sealock said. “The call to you today is to educate everyone around you to pause at 3 p.m. for a national moment of remembrance, to reflect and remember. Let’s go teach someone about the sacrifice, lest we forget.”

Army veteran Carl Sharp, 87, attended Monday’s ceremony with his oldest son, Richard. The two traveled from Spokane Valley, down the Gold Star Memorial Highway – state Highway 902 – to honor those who served and visit the grave of Carl’s late-wife Caroline Sharp.

Sharp said this is the first time he has attended the Memorial Day ceremony, but he often comes to visit his wife, who died in 2018. He appreciates the natural beauty of the facility, and he will be buried with his wife when his time comes.

For Sharp, Memorial Day is about remembering those he served alongside. He shared stories from his time stationed in Austria, Germany and France, and repeated that God has been good to him in his long life.

“It’s a lot when you think about what people have done for us, protecting and serving,” Carl Sharp said. “It’s just amazing to see the people out here recognizing it.”

Cindy Ashworth traveled from Deer Park to visit the grave of her late-husband Allen Ashworth, just like she does every Memorial Day. Her husband died in 2013 from cancer, after a long career in the service.

Allen Ashworth was an Army National Guard veteran who spent more than 25 years stationed several places, including Kuwait and Iraq. He followed in his father’s footsteps, who died serving in the Korean War. Cindy Ashworth said their son Ben Ashworth did the same, a member of the Army National Guard for nearly 20 years. Their grandson Nathan is in the Navy.

During his later years, Allen Ashworth helped establish the cemetery and established a Joint Service Honor Guard to serve at the cemetery with members from every branch. Cindy Ashworth said the honor guard was a real passion of his, and that he was proud to honor veterans during their funerals.

“When Allen joined the committee for the cemetery, that took up a ton of his time; it was just a passion of his,” Cindy Ashworth said. “It’s very meaningful to be out here, and see how beautiful it is. We would come out here when it was just dirt, before it was built, and I was like ‘really?’ They’ve just done a beautiful job.”

She said she visits every January as well, to celebrate their anniversary. She laughed when sharing that Allen made her promise to never put flowers on his grave.

“I did on our first anniversary after he died, I brought him a yellow rose,” Cindy Ashworth said. “He wasn’t the sentimental type– actually, he was. But not about flowers.”

Cindy Ashworth said she hopes people will use Memorial Day to acknowledge the sacrifices made by family members as well as those who served.

Darrel Dalton and his wife Debbie drove from Moses Lake to the veterans cemetery to visit the graves of two relatives interred there. They have made the journey every Memorial Day since Darrel’s father, Jerry Dalton, died.

Jerry Dalton was a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. He died in 2018 at the age of 75. Darrel said his dad dropped out of high school when he was in the ninth grade, so he joined the Navy at a young age. All three of Darrel’s brothers also served in the Navy, including his twin brother, Daniel.

He said his brother and mom also make the trip to Medical Lake to visit Jerry Dalton’s grave, but he could tell they had not made it there yet by the number of coins on top of the headstone.

“We used to go fishing all the time,” Darrel Dalton said. “That was most of the time being with our dad. He was a truck driver, always on the road, so we got to spend more time with him after he was forced to retire from driving.”

They were also there to visit Debbie Dalton’s uncle, George Andreas, who died in 2020. Andreas was an Army veteran and Bronze Star recipient who served in Vietnam and Korea. She said it was nice to have a beautiful facility to visit and reflect, especially since she was not able to attend his burial due to pandemic restrictions.

Debbie Dalton’s father is also an Army veteran. She said he has had several health issues stemming from his time in the service, and that he likely only has a few months left before he, too, is interred at the veterans cemetery in Medical Lake.

She said her dad’s face was disfigured from Agent Orange used in Vietnam, and he is battling aggressive cancer. He uses a wheelchair and suffered a heart attack recently.

Their local veterans association helped make his home accessible, complete with lifts to help him into his bed, an accessible shower and hardwood floors so he can get around.

However, she said he just started living in a hospice facility.

“People just need to remember, because some just think ‘Oh, a three -day weekend,’ ” Debbie Dalton said. “It’s hard for me not to remember because I see my dad live it every day.”

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