Several hundred people packed the pavilion at the fairgrounds Monday for the county’s annual Veterans Day ceremony that, once again, lived up to its billing as one of the best in the state.
Veterans of the Korean War, or the Forgotten War as it is sometimes called, and local Medal of Honor recipient John “Bud” Hawk, who died Nov. 4, got special attention at this year’s event. A separate memorial service was also held later in the day at the pavilion for Hawk.
Kitsap County Commissioners unveiled new road signs designating a portion Illahee Road in front of Brownsville Elementary School as John “Bud” Hawk Memorial Drive and keynote speaker Lourdes “Alfie” Alvarado-Ramos, director of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, spent much of her speech highlighting the sacrifices of Korean War veterans, several of whom she asked to stand for special recognition.
Congressman Derek Kilmer also spoke during the event and outlined four areas in which he is trying to help veterans.
In unveiling the new road signs honoring Hawk, outgoing Central Kitsap County commissioner Josh Brown noted that Hawk was not only a World War II hero, but “an example of our service men and women coming home after wars and serving our communities in wonderful ways.” In Hawk’s case, that meant a 31-year career as a principal and teacher.
Alvarado-Ramos, who served 22 years in the Army before retiring in August 1993 as the Command Sergeant Major of Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, joined the state Veterans Administration a short time later and took the helm of the agency in 2005. Alvarado-Ramos noted that Washington state is home to roughly 620,000 veterans, 75,000 active duty members and 20,000 reserve and national guard. Including family members, there are nearly two million immediate family members with direct ties to the military.
“For my agency, it is Veterans Day every day because that’s we what we do,” she said. “We serve veterans and their families to ensure that they get the get the benefits and services they earned.”
Alvarado-Ramos used the majority of her time at the podium to remind the audience about the unique nature of the Korean War. It was a war, she noted, which lasted 37 months and ended 60 years ago with a truce and no official peace treaty while explosions rang out nearby and fighting continued for 12 more hours. Alvarado-Ramos went on to ask all the Korean War veterans in attendance to stand and be recognized.
“Those of you who shivered in the trenches, trudged through knee-deep mud, flew combat missions over rugged mountain terrain and stood watch over hostile seas, you halted the advance of communism that threatened to sweep over the Korean Peninsula and that will never, never, ever be forgotten,” she said. “Because of you, the Republic of Korea stands as a modern, prosperous and vibrant economy.”
Congressman Kilmer told the crowd it’s important to honor veterans and those who serve not just on Veterans Day, but every day of the year.
“On this day we should do more than remember (veterans’) service and we should do more than say, ‘thank you,’” he said. “We need to back up our words with deeds. And that means rising before challenges.”
In that vein, Kilmer said anyone who has fought for the United States, shouldn’t have to fight for a job when they come home.
“Second, we as a nation need to rise to the challenge of ending veterans homelessness,” he said. “We live of the land of the free and home of the brave and that means every brave soldier should have a home and it shouldn’t be under a freeway overpass.”
Kilmer said that two other areas he is focused on in Congress include ensuring veterans get the benefits they deserve and providing ample resources to the men and women currently serving in the armed forces.
“Our office spends an enormous amount of time and effort simply working to get the benefits for people who have already earned them. We need to eliminate the benefits backlog at the VA. There is no excuse for veterans to have to wait for hundreds of days to get benefits that they have earned or just to be processed for traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder or cancer stemming from the use of Agent Orange. Our nation ought to be committed to getting rid of that backlog.”