It was a day of reflection and remembrance, said Dan O’Reilly, the incoming commander at American Legion Post 168 in Cannon Beach.
At 11 a.m. May 25, almost 100 locals and visitors converged on Fir Street to observe a decades-old homegrown Memorial Day ceremony conducted by the Legion.
From the Cannon Beach Elementary School site, the Legion’s color guard, led by Post Commander Don Boehm, marched north to the Fir Street Bridge: Legionnaire Michael “Mick” French, carried the United States flag; Sergeant-at-Arms Leonard Skreba, the Post 168 flag; Legionnaire Terry Castle, the POW/MIA flag; and Auxiliary Carolyn Anderson, the Auxiliary (Cannon Beach unit) flag.
Before the crowd, O’Reilly delivered the following oration:
“This country was founded in revolution by overthrowing a tyrannical government. The cause was liberty. This was not done without cost. Patriots gave us all that they had and suffered incredible sacrifices to achieve what we now enjoy.
“Since then, the call to the colors has been sounded far too often, but our brave warriors continue to rise and respond. They have served, perished and bled in every part of the globe. They neither sought this responsibility, nor did they shy away from it. Our men and women have served with dignity and honor, regardless of race or creed, for the common goal of the liberties we enjoy.
“This is what to remember and honor for those who have sacrificed their all. They truly are our families and must always be cherished. We owe them more than we could ever give. Their gift to us is best symbolized by the U.S. Military Academy’s motto: ‘Duty. Honor. Country.’
“It it our responsibility to accept this challenge and to never forget what these brave men and women gave to us. The plaintive tones of ‘Taps’ will tell these fallen warriors that they may rest, for we accept this duty, and we have the watch.”
While veterans saluted and civilians placed hand over heart, Pat Hegrenes, a Sons of the American Legion member, sounded “Taps” on the bugle.
In the solemn silence that followed, dozens of people tossed flowers of different varieties over the bridge’s westward railing into Ecola Creek, “in the same way you lay flowers at a grave — to say ‘Thank you,’” said Cannon Beach resident Mary Kerwin, who threw lilies. Her husband, Jack Kerwin, served in the Vietnam War.
Col. Steven Easterday, a parttime Cannon beach resident from Portland, said he attends commemorative events like Cannon Beach’s to pay tribute, not just to departed service members, but to all members on active duty.
A veteran who served as a Marine engineer from 1972 to 2002, Easterday said several Marines from his unit whom we knew personally were killed in action during and after Operation Desert Storm. “It was great to be working with them, and to remember them on a day like today,” he said.
Post 168’s Memorial Day ceremony originally began in the 1970s as a way to honor the auxiliary women of Cannon Beach who had lost their husbands, said Boehm, who helped expand the event over the years.
“I just appreciate the people that turn out for it,” he said. “To me, it’s just a very heartwarming and a very meaningful way to show respect for the servicemen and women lost in the Great Wars.”
Asked how he feels after these annual observances, O’Reilly — who served in Vietnam along with his brother, whose father served in World War II, and whose oldest son served in the first Gulf War — said:
“I feel a real depth of commitment to continue to do this as long as I can, for what we owe that’s been paid for,” he said.