PORT ANGELES — The annual regional Veterans Day ceremony in a Port Angeles Coast Guard hangar rarely coaxes crowd interjections.
But on Saturday, mumbles of “no” could be heard across the about 1,000 seated in the Coast Guard aviation hangar on Ediz Hook as Col. Thomas K. Johnson asked: “Do you think our children know what this day means?”
“Do you think they’re aware of the sacrifices endured by the men and women who fought to defend our country and our freedom?” asked Johnson.
He is a Marine Corps veteran who flew a record 506 Close Air Support missions in the Vietnam War.
“I don’t think they will learn that in school or the history books,” he continued.
The ceremony’s keynote speaker lamented what he described as a lack of military history in “The American Journey,” a high school U.S. history textbook by McGraw-Hill Education.
He said the textbook devotes one page to Elvis Presley, two pages to Michelangelo, but “only one sentence” each to major World War leaders.
He also cited a recently revised set of curriculum that summarizes World War II in a single page.
“I lived through World War II when I was a youngster in my era,” he said. “Now, we are racing to tear down statues of men we refuse to understand.
“Soon, if we are not careful, we will be a country without a history.”
Veterans continue their legacy by documenting their stories with children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who cannot understand the first-hand experience of war, he said.
He said that civilians don‘t understand.
“None of them have gone on long overseas tours away from family. They don’t realize what it’s like,” he said. “Think about that.”
Johnson took pains to document the story of a dear friend, now deceased, who served as a pilot in two tours during the Korean War and two tours in the Vietnam War, he said.
Twice, he was shot down by enemy fire in the Korean War.
Johnson met with him eight times, taping the telling conversations.
The resulting 46-page biography revealed an experience previously unknown to the veteran’s family and friends, Johnson said, though he did not read from the manuscript.
Johnson parted with a call to action.
“Stand when the National Anthem is played. Winning wars is the backbone of our history — be proud of the part you played in that. Thank a veteran. Read your autobiography.”
Mount Olympus Detachment 897 of the Marine Corps League Honor Guard followed Johnson’s remarks with a three-volley salute.
The ceremony included patriotic music — such songs as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Shenandoah,” “God Bless America” among others, as well as “Amazing Grace” — performed by the Port Angeles High School Band, Sequim High School Select Choir, Olympic Peninsula Men’s Chorus, bagpiper Rick McKenzie and Grand Olympics Chorus of Sweet Adeline’s International.
During the Armed Forces Medley, men and women who served in the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Coast Guard-Merchant Marine stood.
The Clallam County Veterans Association sponsored the ceremony.
Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].