The gray and somber skies and accompanying drizzle didn’t deter community members determined to pay tribute to the nation’s veterans at a special ceremony held at William A. Fish Veterans Park on Pontiac Street in Oakdale on Friday, Nov. 11. They came armed with portable tents and umbrellas along with their patriotic spirit in spite of the dreary weather.
The Veterans Appreciation Day, hosted by Oakdale Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2922 and co-sponsored by the City of Oakdale, included speakers representing the past, present and future of the military service people as well as a brief history of the park monument and explain the meaning behind it.
Coordinator Paul Lewis (retired Army) of the VFW Post 2922 was pleased with the turnout, saying, “I figured it was time to do something. I was very happy with the turnout. It was very nice.”
With cooperation from the city, getting the event to happen turned out to be relatively painless.
“Someone just has to make a proposal and Oakdale will jump on it,” Lewis said.
The Oakdale Community Garden Club spent some time restoring the park ahead of time to ensure the setting was in tip-top shape for the ceremony and volunteers repaired the light fixture illuminating the monument.
Singer Tommy Warren kicked off the event with two patriotic songs and Oakdale Mayor Pat Paul put a call out to the residents, urging community members to become more proactive about Veterans Day festivities.
Paul, displaying her signature humor, stated of the drizzle and eliciting a few chuckles, “We’re tough; we’re Americans. We can handle a little rain.” She continued, saying, “Veterans Day is about respecting all veterans, past, present and future. And the city is looking for proposals to honor our veterans. Next year we’d like to see a parade for our veterans.”
Billy Bryels, retired Army, was one of the featured speakers. His address was brief, but poignant as he said, “War is hell. Being a veteran is no small thing. I pray all our veterans come home safely. You know, there are no atheists in foxholes. At one point or another, they’re all praying to God.”
Bryels’ address prompted some light laughter but his message was clear: military servicemen and women on the front lines often come face-to-face with their own mortality.
Next, the mother of a serviceman on active duty in Iraq, Jonyce O’Neill took the podium as she shared what it’s like for the families of enlisted men and women.
“I don’t think anyone ever truly knows until they go through it,” she said. “I knew he would be gone but I didn’t truly realize it until he was actually gone…But I have immense pride for all my son is doing.”
Specialist Chris Petrojean with Delta Company, 1st 184th Infantry Battalion, came with his two young daughters, illustrating how today’s enlisted are also family men, leaving behind children and wives to fight for their country.
Petrojean smiled at the rain falling from the sky and nodded, saying, “Like we say in Delta Company, if it ain’t rainin’, we ain’t training.”
Petrojean shared his experience with the crowd, standing with pride and honor for his service.
And lastly, a young man with plans to enter the service – following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather — expressed his genuine love for his country and his appreciation for all the sacrifice given by those before him.
Anyone interested in helping organize the Veterans Day parade for next year is asked to call Oakdale City Hall at 209-845-3571.