A day ahead of the actual Veterans Day holiday, members of the Escalon community and those from the surrounding area came together on Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Escalon Community Center.
Following a downtown parade earlier in the morning, ceremonies were hosted at the Memorial Wall adjacent to the city’s Community Center with music, a guest speaker, the laying of a wreath and a 21-gun salute, along with the playing of Taps. The Escalon High School choir performed the National Anthem to begin the festivities.
“Between last year and this, we lost a member of our post,” Escalon American Legion Post 263 Chaplain Casey Den Ouden noted after welcoming the crowd to the 11:30 a.m. ceremony on Saturday.
Pastor Jim Davis, who had also served for a time as chaplain of the post, lost his battle with cancer earlier this year. He was remembered by Den Ouden at the ceremony.
“I ask for a moment of silence in honor and memory, and to thank him for his service,” Den Ouden said of Davis, who also was pastor at Trinity Church.
Guest speaker for the ceremony was Chaplain Chuck Roots, a retired Marine and U.S. Navy Reserves officer; he joined the Maine Corps in 1969 and spent nine years in the Marines, then served 25 years with the Navy Reserves.
“I served in Vietnam, it was our patriotic duty,” Roots said.
His topic for the day was heroes, noting that he had a few of his own growing up, including George Washington Paul Revere, Davy Crockett and Harriet Tubman.
A hero, Roots said, is defined as “a person who performs extraordinary deeds for the benefit” of others.
“Movie stars are not heroes, athletes are not heroes and politicians are not heroes,” he said to some applause and chuckles from the crowd.
Roots also commended those choosing to serve in today’s military.
“They simply love America and believe she is a nation worth fighting for, to lay down their life if need be,” Roots explained. “Those are the heroes to me.”
He also included law enforcement, firefighters and first responders in the hero category, often putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure others are safe and secure.
“Heroes come in all shapes and sizes,” he said.
Roots said his brother, John, tops that list for him, as his brother flew over 220 combat missions in Vietnam. He also praised the service of those American Legion Post members on hand for the ceremony.
“There is no country in the world like the United States of America. We are a free people and we need to hold on to those freedoms with every fiber of our being,” he said.
The chaplain also encouraged those in the crowd to “take a moment to pray for our troops” and to “say thanks” to veterans and active duty military personnel whenever they have the chance.
“They are my kind of heroes,” Roots said.
Taking a turn at the podium, Den Ouden admitted to the crowd that he was initially bitter after arriving home from Vietnam and spent many years trying to forget his service.
Now, though, as a longtime active member of the Legion post, he said he is proud of his service and thanked those attending the ceremony for their support of veterans. He also related a story of making contact with a long lost buddy from Vietnam earlier that day, rekindling a friendship.
A memorial wreath was then placed at the monument to Escalon’s fallen soldiers lost in war, a 21-gun salute was performed and Taps was played. Escalon High School and El Portal bands performed and the EHS choir also offered some musical selections as the crowd enjoyed visiting and then adjourned to a barbecue chicken and ribs luncheon inside the Community Center.