The spirit of gratitude was evident at Sunday’s Memorial Day program at the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden, as keynote speaker Major General Jake Vermilyea, Retired, thanked those who served voluntarily and those who were drafted, as well as family and friends who lost loved ones.
Vermilyea, who now lives on a ranch in the Montague area, said he has visited more than 40 countries in his lifetime, and though many are beautiful and have wonderful people, “none of them touch America. No contest.”
During the ceremony, 32 names were added to the Sculpture Garden’s Hot LZ Wall, which honors all veterans, both alive and dead.
Master of Ceremonies Dean Whetstine, Commander US Navy, Retired, took a moment to remember Weed’s Dr. Jack Runnels, Captain, USNR, Retired, who recently passed away.
“Jack spent his life taking care of people, both in uniform and out,” Whetstine told the crowd. “During his years of practice as a neurosurgeon, he served as a Navy physician and flight surgeon, including afloat on Yankee Station during the Vietnam War. During his years in Siskiyou County, he accomplished much for the community generally and for the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden particularly. A lot of what you see around you today is a result of his work. He was a talented and capable man, a courageous man, a joyful man, a kind and honorable man. His many friends here and elsewhere know and value what he got done. We cherish the memory of his affection.”
When introducing the afternoon’s keynote speaker, Whetstine said Vermilyea enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1955 and served as a naval gunfire spotter and radio operator.
“Five years later, he was selected for flight training, received his pilot’s wings, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. Over the next 32 years, he qualified in both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. He flew as a combat aviator in Vietnam, earning five air medals. He served in a long series of increasingly responsible operational and staff assignments. He held four command positions: Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One, the 13th Marine Amphibious Unit, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, and the Fourth Marine Aircraft Wing. His many military decorations include the Marine Good Conduct Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Distinguished Service Medal.”
Vermilyea retired from the Marine Corps in 1992 and went to work for Northwest Airlines as Director of Operations for their flight training simulators. He then joined the United States Space Alliance Corporation, where he assumed control of mission planning, mission preparation, astronaut training, and flight control for the NASA Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, said Whetstine.
In 2002, Vermilyea and his wife, Vivian, moved to Siskiyou County.
“All Americans have an obligation to preserve our country,” said Vermilyea. He praised audience members, who took time from their weekend to “come here, respect the war dead, veterans, and anyone who has sacrificed for our country… God rest the souls of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and God bless America.”
The Yreka High School Vocal Ensemble, directed by Eric Seiler, performed the National Anthem and other patriotic selections. Whetstine noted that Seiler himself was unable to be at the ceremony because he was on weekend duty for the National Guard.
The Jefferson Bagpipe Band provided music, including a rendition of Amazing Grace, and the Marine Corps League Siskiyou Detachment 936 presented the colors, retired the colors, and provided a gun salute.
Robert Menzies gave the invocation and John Kessler played Taps. Giving the benediction was Reverend Oswin Hollenbeck from Shasta Abbey.
Suzanne Breceda, Menzies, and Nancy Wallace solemnly read the names of each new addition to the wall, which include the following:
SP5 Leonard M. Bruffett, USA; David E. Stiff, USAF, VN; NURSE Leila Hamerton Williams, USANC, WWI; FT3 Shane G. Hotek, USCG; SGT Robert E. Burns, USN, WWII (Killed in Action); DK Ilario A. Jessup, MM, WWII; CPL Richard D. Hansen, USMC, OIF, GWTS; SP4 Don F. Casey, USA, VN; TECH5 George A. Seaton, USA, WWII; PFC Harold W. Henry, USA, Korea; SP4 David B. Young, USA; YN3 Renee Young, USN; TECH4 Gordon C. Porter, USA, WWII;AN Dennis J. Connolly, USN, VN; SGT Ray R. Welliver, USA, VN; SMSGT Leo R. Emery, USA, WWII, Korea, VN; SF1 William N. George, USN, WWII; 1SGT Martin F. Bleskey, USMC, Korea, VN; CPO Jack Berggreen, USN, WWII, Korea; CPT Griffin R. Bloodhart, USA, VN; HN Kenneth R. Mallory, USN, VN; GM3 Benjamin A. Ellin, USN, WWII; SP5 Bruce A. Ellin, USA, VN; PO3 Gregorey F. Ott, USN, VN; CPL Joseph E. Amaral, USA, WWII; SP4 Kenneth D. Amaral, USA; S1ARM Harold J. Bates, Jr., USN, WWII; SGT Robert A Francisco, USMC; CM3 Dale P. Kuck, USN, VN; CDR James E. Tyhurst, USN, Korea, VN; SGT William C. McCarthy, USA, WWII; PHM3 Versa J. McCarthy, USN, WWII.
The Living Memorial Sculpture Garden sits about 13 miles north of Weed on Highway 97. It includes the Hot LZ Wall, as well as 11 sculpture groups by artist Dennis Smith. It is situated on 136 acres of land provided by the US Forest Service and has been replanted with thousands of trees, which are a living memorial to those who have sacrificed their lives in war, according to their website. It was founded by a group of veterans in 1988 and is now sponsored and maintained by the Kiwanis of Weed/Lake Shastina.