By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Riverton, Wyo.) – Wyoming’s last surviving Pearl Harbor Survivor, George Gildehous, 92, and a Korean Conflict Veteran, Jim Ray, 82, were just two of many veterans who received thanks and welcome at a Veteran’s Welcome Home ceremony this morning in Riverton. Gildehous and Ray both had walkers to steady themselves when standing. Gildshous said being the last Pearl Harbor Survivor in the state is a lonely honor. “I don’t have anyone to talk to anymore who was there,” he said. But Gildehous walked down the line of well wishers, leaning in to hear better.
Ray, a Disabled American Veteran, said he was injured when his ship was tossed around in a typhoon, a torpedo came loose and pinned him against the bulkhead. His ship was the aircraft carrier USS Badoeng Strait (CVE-116). “We were in the North China Sea when the typhoon hit and it was a rough ride,” he said. Ray said he still suffers from the back injury to this date.
Also present was one of the youngest veterans, new Riverton Police Officer Jacob Nation of Lander, who recently returned from the Middle East. But perhaps the biggest group of veterans present were those who fought in the Vietnam war, when the reception given to returning military personnel was less than welcoming. Two of those veterans, Cliff Root of Riverton and Lyle Wadda of Fort Washakie, visited and swapped stories of their deployment back in the 1970s when a military draft was in place. Root was in the Airborne Infantry and Wadda was a member of the famous 101st Airborne Division. Wadda is now a member of the Wyoming Veteran’s Commission. Another Vietnam vet was Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness, who didn’t wait for the draft but volunteered for duty. He joined his fellow veteran and neighboring mayor, Lander ‘s Mick Wolfe, in the welcoming ceremony.
The jammed clubhouse of the REACH Foundation was standing room only for the event, which is now annually celebrated in the state and is now in its third year. Keynote speaker was Gov. Matt Mead who said it was a great privilege to be in the company of so many veterans. “Thank you all for a job well done,” said Mead in opening remarks, “especially those from the Vietnam era.” Mead recounted the various conflicts the country has been involved in since WWII, noting that veterans not only face death in the face of enemy combatants, but also face long separations from their families and friends, and, sometimes, long overdue recognition. “There are never enough days or ways to thank to our veterans,” he said. “When the United States commits troops, it includes all of us,” he said. Using a poker term, the Governor said that when our troops go overseas “we are ‘all in’ and we must be completely committed to to them, because they are.”
Wyoming Adjutant General Luke Reiner made six points in recognizing the veterans. “Freedom is not free; America’s military is the best in the world; Each generation of veterans has stood on the shoulders of those who went before; Our nation is better because you served, whether you were drafted or volunteered; An enduring truth is the good of the many are served by the few, noting that less that one percent of the nation’s population wears the uniform; and We are here to honor the men and women who served in the arena, were injured or saw their fellow soldiers die, and who came home. Thank you and welcome home,” he said. Reiner reminded the audience “we’re still at war today, we’re still in business now and in the future, and we are still deploying troops.” With that reference, Reiner noted that later this month, 162 Wyoming soldiers from Laramie will be deployed into the arena.
Lee Alley, Vice-chairman of the Wyoming Veterans Commission, gave an emotional address noting that it “shouldn’t take legislation to make a country stand up and do the right thing.” But he said the mandated observance “if nothing else is a reminder of mistakes we have made in the past, that this piece of history is not repeated.” In conclusion, Alley said “never again will we disrespect anyone giving their life for their country.”
The ceremony began with the color guard from the Truman Friday Marine Corps League and the singing of the national anthem by Central Wyoming College student John Sousa, who also closed the event encouraging all in attendance to sing God Bless America with him.
Legislators in attendance included St. Reps. Lloyd Larsen of Lander and Rita Campbell of Missouri Valley.