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Arlington commemorates Memorial Day
ARLINGTON — Jerry Mathews stood on the sidewalk of Olympic Avenue in his dress blues, waiting for the parade at 10 a.m.
“I just think I’m lucky to be an American,” said Mathews, who served 42 years and three months in the U.S. Naval Reserves. “When you see the rest of the world, you realize how fortunate we are to celebrate holidays like this.”
Mathews was one of hundreds of veterans and civilian community members alike who thronged Olympic Avenue for Arlington’s Memorial Day parade on May 30. He was called up to active duty for 22 months during World War II, 36 months in Korea and 15 months in Vietnam, working his way up from an enlisted sailor to a captain on board atomic submarines.
“I was a high school teacher the rest of the time,” Mathews said.
Mathews believes that most young people today have respect for service members, a view shared by Vietnam veteran Mike Larson, who came from Monroe to watch the Arlington Memorial Day parade.
“This parade has developed a real presence in this community,” Larson said, as members of the Arlington American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts marched down the street. “I love that the Arlington High School Marching Band participates. There’s a real sense of hometown community spirit here.”
Larson now volunteers with the USO and has witnessed a transformation in civilians’ attitudes toward service members since the 1960s and ‘70s.
“I was drafted, so it was a complete shock when I learned what a brutal and ugly business war could be,” Larson said. “The all-volunteer military that we have now, though, receives much more positive recognition for their service, and has a much more positive attitude toward it.”
After the World War II veterans waved to the crowds from their truck, and the local troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts followed the AHS Air Force Junior ROTC cadets in carrying their colors, members of Arlington American Legion Post 76 and VFW Post 1561 reconvened at the Arlington Cemetery at 11 a.m. to pay their respects to their fallen fellow service members.
“We come here to honor our heroic dead,” American Legion Post 76 Cmdr. Kenneth Friske said. “It’s because of them that our lives are free.”
“The courage of their sacrifices, with compassion and concern for their fellow Americans, has made America the land of the free, and the home of the brave, that’s worth fighting for,” VFW Post 1561 Chaplain Keith Reyes said.
Retired U.S. Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer John Westfall, a former SEAL who monitored global activities in locations such as Afghanistan and Yemen from the Philippines in 2008 and from Iraq in 2009, spoke to those in attendance about Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Trahan, who was killed in action on April 30, 2009, while conducting combat operations in Fallujah.
“He’d only served in the Navy for three years,” Westfall said of Trahan. “His was the 38th photo that we placed on our wall of heroes. There are 49 photos there now.”
Westfall explained the importance of supporting service members through job training problems in the civilian world, and of supporting their families so that they can focus on their missions in the field. He then congratulated all those who have served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001, for the roles that he credited them all with playing in the recent death of Osama bin Laden.
“The cost was 4,700 service members in Iraq, 2,400 in Afghanistan and 2,700 firefighters, police officers and civilians in New York on 9/11,” Westfall said. “The result has been a surge of democracy in the Middle East, as people have made an effort to have their say on how they’re governed.”