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VFW Post 4031 celebrates Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Veterans reflect on the lives lost during one of U.S. history’s most infamous events
Navy veteran Melinda Michael gives a speech during Wednesday night’s Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony. Almost 100 people attended the event. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4031 hosted a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony Wednesday night to remember those who lost their lives in one of the most infamous days in United States history.

The event featured music from the Durango Brass Band, who played songs such as “It’s Been a Long, Long, Time,” “Thanks for the Memory,” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

Some veterans took to the dance floor while others enjoyed food catered by Distinct Dining. The event opened with The Missing Man Ceremony to honor those who died in combat.

“As a veteran, Pearl Harbor is always hanging in the back of your mind,” said VFW Chairman of the Public Relations Committee Jeff Punches.

Punches served as a Navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam War. He said Pearl Harbor was a seminal event in U.S. history because of the lives lost, and it was the first shots fired by the U.S. in World War II.

“We decided to make a big deal out of it because its important to military history and national history,” Punches said.

For the Head of the Blue Star Moms Jill Williams, the event was particularly emotional. Williams lost her son in Iraq and said commemorating an event like Pearl Harbor shows that those who lost their lives did so with a purpose: To protect the country.

VFW events like Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day are important to Williams because it shows community patriotism.

Navy Veteran Tim Deal said the event gives people perspective. Deal recently published a book called “Defenders of the Rock.” The book highlights 24 individual stories about the start of World War II in the Philippines. He wrote the book after spending three years conducting interviews with family members of those who served during the attacks in the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941.

Deal said people don’t understand how great their lives are until they listen to what those who served during that time had to go through.

“It really shows people what real sacrifice is,” Deal said.

A common quote throughout the night was by Ernest Hemingway: “Every man has two deaths, when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name.”

The quote resonates strongly with veterans in their attempt to never forget the efforts and services of their fallen comrades.

At the event, the VFW was taking donations that go toward building maintenance and paying bartenders.

The VFW usually raises $40,000 to $50,000 in donations per year. Punches said membership has increased this year going from 220 members to 250 members.

The VFW building has undergone over $100,000 worth of remodeling over the past year, mostly paid for by donations and state grants.

The Wednesday night event was the first time Post 4031 held an event commemorating Pearl Harbor. Punches said the VFW wants to make it an annual event.

He said there’s been an uptick in younger membership at the VFW which has helped re-energize the group’s efforts hosting events.

“It’s important we remember the past and to have ceremonies like this. It’s somber in one respect but it brings everybody together,” said Post Commander Mike Benton.

Senior Vice Post Commander and Navy veteran Melinda Michael gave a speech on what Pearl Harbor means to service members during band intermissions.

“It (Pearl Harbor) taught us that we need to be ever vigilant against enemies of our way of life and the necessity of a strong national defense,” she said.

She said service members will never forget the contributions and sacrifice of those who served during the Pearl Harbor attacks.

“We are strengthened by the memory of their actions,” she said.

tbrown@durangoherald.com

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