Pastor Dean Hackett had tears in his eyes as he tried to tell the veterans in front of him how much their service meant to him.
“I appreciate you more than I can say for the sacrifices you have made,” he said, his voice breaking.
Hundreds of people — mostly veterans and their families — had crowded into the Hermiston Conference Center Friday morning for a breakfast and program honoring veterans. Hackett conducted the program, wrapping up the speeches with a passionate recounting of the attack on Fort McHenry that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner” when he saw that the American flag still stood over the fort at dawn.
“She was severely torn and tattered by the cannonade, but Old Glory was still flying,” Hackett said, thanking the veterans for continuing the defense of the flag and the freedoms it stands for.
Rep. Greg Smith also thanked the veterans for their service, asking them to stand as he praised them for their valor and unselfish sacrifices.
“They were ordinary people who responded in extraordinary ways,” he said of all the men and women who have answered the call to defend their country since the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in Lexington.
Smith also had the military spouses, children, parents and siblings stand, thanking them for their own sacrifices as they kept the home fires burning and spent countless nights fearing for their loved ones’ lives.
Veterans Al Rafferty and David Gallagher spoke about their own experiences serving, and their gratitude for the support they received after coming home.
“I lost my best friend there and I lost a lot of good friends,” said Gallagher, who fought in the Vietnam war.
He said the other day when a tire on a truck blew he immediately dove for cover, because 49 years after his service those wartime experiences were still with him.
Rafferty, a Marine Corps veteran involved in Desert Storm, said joining the VFW and Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association had provided him with camaraderie and support, and he encouraged other veterans present to seek out similar groups.
“Being able to talk to other veterans who have been in similar situations has really helped me cope with some of the things I’ve struggled with,” he said.
Following Hackett’s remarks, dancers from Dance Unlimited performed several patriotic numbers, interspersed with singing by husband and wife David and Alexis McCarthy, who performed war-era hits from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Sonny and Cher.
Oregon National Guard veteran Ed Higginbotham, who served with the Pendleton unit in the 1970s, said he was glad he came to the Greater Hermiston Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Veterans Day event.
“It’s a good breakfast,” he said. “I enjoy the fellowship of seeing old friends and folks that have served in the community or are still serving.”