On May 5, 2012,Â the 7th Annual Defending Freedom Red Rock Memorial Dedication was held at the Visitors Center of the Red Rock National Conservation Area.
The memorial was built in 2005 to honor the Nevada military members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.Â Their names are engraved in stone on the memorial.
My wife and I attended the ceremony for the first time this year.Â A more beautiful setting would be hard to find, with the majestic multi-colored cliffs of the canyon as a backdrop.Â Sunny and bright with just a hint of a cooling breeze, the weather was perfect, too.
The U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard presented the colors.Â Behind us, carrying American flags, bikers from the Patriot Guard, Freedom Riders, Marine Corps League, American Legion, VFW and the Warrior Brotherhood stood at attention as the National Anthem was played.
Phil Randazzo of the Nevada Benefits Association, one of the founders of the memorial, and a recently appointed member of the Nevada Veterans Services Commission, served as master of ceremonies for the event.Â Injecting a little humor into the otherwise serious ceremony, he poked gentle fun at the elected officials of both political parties that were present, calling himself â€œan equal opportunity hazer.â€
On a serious note, Mr. Randazzo noted that he hoped â€œthat this will be the last year that names are added to the stones.â€
Mary Jo Ringwell, District Manager, and Tim Wakefield, Field Manager of the Bureau of Land Management , which oversees Red Rock, commented on the close working relationship between the BLM and Defending Freedom.
Congresswoman Shelly Berkley and Congressman Joe Heck also spoke.Â Colonel Heck is a 22-year veteran of the Nevada Guard who served a tour in Iraq as a military doctor.Â He and Ms. Berkley avowed strong support for the Memorial and fallen heroes that it honors.
U. S. Air Force Major Jose Cabrera, 58th Rescue Squadron , Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., related the story of â€œPedro 66,â€ an HH-60 helicopter, which crashed on a rescue mission, killing all five aboard.
Five more names were added to the memorial last Saturday.Â They were Army Sgt. Timothy Sayne, Army Sgt. Ken K. Hermogino, Army Spc. Dennis James Jr., Army Spc. Douglas J. Green, and Marine Corporal Jon-Luke Bateman.Â There are now 84 names on the Memorial
Governor Brian Sandoval noted that very few States have honored their fallen heroes with memorials similar to Defending Freedom.Â He said that wherever he goes in Nevada, from big â€“ city Las Vegas to small towns like Tonopah and Dayton there is strong support for our troops.
In an example of our Stateâ€™s support, he commented that he has been concerned for some time about the difficulties faced by military spouses in professional fields who face obstacles in obtaining employment when transferred to Nevada.Â He cited licensing requirements as an example.Â The governor said he will introduce an Executive Order giving job preferences to military spouses and reciprocity with other States on professional licensing.Â (NOTE: Subject Executive Order was presented to Nevada Legislature, Monday, May 7,2012) When he produced a copy of the Executive Order, Mr. Randazzo asked â€œWhy donâ€™t you sign it here?â€
After some banter, Governor Sandoval, apparently caught by surprise, signed the Executive Order, to the delight of the crowds.
The final, and most emotional part of the ceremony included an open forum for Nevada Gold Star Families and friends of the war dead.
A tearful lady described losing her son to a â€œvirusâ€ shortly after his return from Iraq.Â A woman whose husband was killed in Vietnam described the difficult times she faced in a small town in Oregon.Â She said there were no offers of help or sympathy and she was virtually â€œshunnedâ€ by her neighbors.Â As she tearfully described it, â€œtimes were different then.â€
They certainly were.Â But thanks to people like Phil Randazzo and Governor Sandoval and our other elected officials and countless other patriotic Americans we remember and honor our fallen heroes.
If we have to have an 8th Annual Dedication next year, hope to see you there.Â Or put another way, hope to NOT to have to see you there.