While Saturday, November 11, may have dawned rainy and grey, the wet weather did nothing to deter Sky Valley residents from showing up to honor their veterans.
The Sultan Veterans Day Ceremony took place at 11 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 11, at Sultan’s All Veterans Memorial Wall in River Park. Roughly 150 guests gathered under cloudy skies to show their gratitude to those who have answered the call to serve their country. The ceremony was emceed by committee co-chair and VFW Post 2554 Commander Sgt. First Class Dave Sivewright, who also served as the keynote speaker. Guest speakers included Washington State Representative Carolyn Eslick, Mayor Pro Tem John Seehuus, Pastor Aaron Day, Pastor Sean Wilkerson and others.
The colors were presented by Sultan Cub Scout Pack 52 and the Monroe Junior ROTC.
Pastor Aaron Day gave the opening invocation. He spoke of gratitude and sacrifice, thanking all veterans for their service. He paused to honor his younger brother, Monroe resident Jason Day, who served for 10 years as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. As Day stood in front of the crowd, he wore the faded and worn-out boots his brother had worn while on deployment in Saudi Arabia.
“Veterans and their families; we respect you, we honor you, maybe most importantly, we remember you,” Day said. “You have given so much that we could have freedom to be here.”
Mayor Pro Tem John Seehuus spoke next.
Every day, our veterans fight courageously to defend the freedom that Americans hold so dear, he said.
“Their service is not without sacrifice, as they must endure time away from their families, the profound stress of combat, and the uncertainty that comes with deploying into hostile, unfamiliar environments,” Seehuus said. “We have no shortage of heroes here in the beautiful Sky Valley, and for their selfless service, we say thank you.”
Sivewright introduced 39th District Representative Eslick next, recalling when they first met four years ago. Eslick was Sultan’s mayor then, a position in which she served for nearly 10 years. She immediately recruited him to serve on the Sultan Veterans Day Ceremony Committee as the chair, a volunteer position he shares with his wife Christina.
Eslick is a master at getting people to serve, he said.
“She knew exactly where I needed to be and what I was called to do,” Sivewright said.
Eslick reflected briefly on her time as mayor. She enjoyed her time spent in office, she said, but it was also time to move on. Appointed to the state legislature in September, Eslick is looking forward to new challenges at the state level, including transportation and veteran advocacy. She will travel to Olympia in January as a lawmaker, serving in the 2018 legislative session.
There are over 39,000 homeless veterans in the United States, she said, which is far too many. She hopes to make a difference in Washington, she said.
“I believe we need to house the veterans first,” Eslick said. “That is another goal that I have for this year.”
After Eslick spoke, attendees were given an overview of the origins of Veterans Day, in a presentation by VFW Post 2554 Senior Vice Commander Chuck McCollough. Former Sultan Mayor C.H. Rowe followed, with a history of the All Veterans Memorial Wall, which preceded Sivewright’s presentation as the principal speaker. Sivewright’s powerfully-themed keynote address was a story of “grit and gratitude.”
Grit, he said, is the courage, resolve and strength of character it takes to serve.
“It is the sacrifice that our veterans have made and that helps make this country what it is,” Sivewright said. “Gratitude is the appreciation that we are extending to our veterans today, for our sacrifice to our country.”
They are a small, exclusive group, he said, with only 7 percent of Americans serving or having served their country.
Sivewright has been in the military for a total of 21 years. He entered into the Marine Corps at 18 just out of high school, serving six years in a combat infantry unit. He was honorably discharged in 1983. In 2002, he made a decision to return to service, joining the U.S. Army for the same reasons he joined the Marine Corps – it’s in his blood. His father, uncles, great grandfather and grandfather all served before him, deeply rooting Sivewright’s sense of pride, duty and honor. He volunteered for two overseas deployments with the Army; one for 12 months in 2004, the second for nine months in 2012.
“I am currently on active duty serving our great nation with the same pride and dedication as the veterans we have here today and across America,” Sivewright said.
He recalled what it was like to be 9 years old and missing his father, who served in Vietnam. He and his brother would write him letters and create voice recordings on reel-to-reel tapes, which they in turn received from their dad about once a week. His father served 21 years in the U.S. Navy, including time on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, a warship decommissioned in 2009 after nearly 49 years of service.
Missing out on moments with family members is part of the sacrifice, but makes the time spent together all the more precious.
“As for my time in the armed forces, I’ve missed countless birthdays, my oldest son’s wedding, the birth of my granddaughter, Thanksgivings and Christmases with family, just to name a few,” Sivewright said. “These experiences have given me the grit to recognize the importance of being alive and present in my own journey.”
Since moving to the patriotic Sky Valley, Sivewright has earned popularity as the “Highway 2 Freedom Runner,” because of his penchant for running along U.S. 2 with Old Glory. He was given the nickname in 2013, by a Sultan High School student now serving in the Army National Guard. His flag-running habit actually started in 2010 in Vancouver, as a way to both get in shape and boost spirits.
It is a practice that was passionately embraced by Sky Valley residents the moment he hit the scenic highway. At the present time, Sivewright has run over 4,300 miles with his four-foot by six-foot American flag, as a reminder to him and others that the freedom we enjoy in America is the result of those who have served and continue to serve this great nation. It is a result of “service before self,” he said, three words that describe every veteran who has donned a military uniform.
“Why do I run with Old Glory? My answer is pride, duty, honor,” Sivewright said.
Sivewright received a standing ovation for his speech.
The event included a student essay presentation by Sultan Middle School student Avery Brumley, who received first place in the VFW’s Patriot’s Pen essay contest. This year’s theme for the Patriot’s Pen essay contest was “America’s Gift to my Generation,” explained Sivewright’s wife, Christina.
Brumley’s essay was remarkably well-written and presented with heart.
“The obvious kinds of gifts come wrapped with colorful ribbon and provide immediate enjoyment, such as a desired toy or a gift card to your favorite store. But some of the best gifts are not as obvious. They are not tangible, you can’t play with them, hold them, or even see them,” Brumley said. “The gifts America has given my generation are gifts such as these.”
The greatest gift America has given his generation, Brumley said, is the opportunity to receive an education. They are able to receive this education because of the sacrifices made by veterans to maintain a democratic government, which allows certain rights and freedoms, including access to knowledge and the freedom of speech.
“The freedom of speech has allowed us to be on our way to becoming the best educated group of American students in history. We can contradict others’ ideas without the fear of being punished,” Brumley said. “Our education system encourages us not only to have our own opinion, but to be open minded and creative-thinkers that are interested in making a difference.”
For the last 241 years, people have been allowed to vote on how their government is run, Brumley said.
“This is a gift that continues to be given to my generation. Thanks to those men and woman who have fought and are currently fighting to uphold these freedoms,” Brumley said. “Without our veterans I don’t know that we would enjoy the rights and freedoms we do today. Their service to our country and sacrifices they have made is their gift to America and my generation.”
Each year, the Sultan and Gold Bar VFWs engage with Sultan School District students to promote patriotism through its youth essay contest. This year, they received a total of 71 entries from third grade up through the high school, said Christina.
“I encourage people to recognize that we have a lot of great young people in our community,” Christina said. “They do care.”
Other ceremony highlights included a striking and solemn performance by Sgt. Brian Johnston of the Monroe Police Department, who played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. “Taps” was performed by Dave Pallo. The ceremony concluded with a closing prayer from Pastor Sean Wilkerson, after which guests walked to Sultan City Hall for refreshments and a display of historic military memorabilia.