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BAGPIPER
DR. RAPHAEL PAZO
PAYS TRIBUTE
TO VETERANS

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Rain doesn't dampen Veterans Day observance in Lodi

Last updated: Friday, Nov 12, 2004 - 07:58:47 am PST

Constant rain forced the observance of the Veterans Day holiday in Lodi indoors on Thursday afternoon. Instead of being held at the All Veterans' Plaza near City Hall, more than 400 people packed into a dry Hutchins Street Square for the annual ceremony.

That luxury of moving to a more comfortable location is one many soldiers often do without. Vice-Mayor John Beckman illustrated that irony with a story about his grandfather, who once fought in freezing cold weather wearing only a light uniform during World War II.

Mel Quaschnick, left, and Larry Figueira stand for the Pledge of Allegiance during the Veterans Day observance Thursday at Hutchins Street Square in Lodi. (Angelina Gervasi/News-Sentinel)

"It's a reminder that the soldiers don't get to pick their battlefield," Beckman told the packed audience. "Not even the clothes that are issued to them."

Thursday's ceremony marked Veterans Day's 50th anniversary as a national holiday. The observance featured patriotism, prayer, recognition, respect, music -- and even an appearance from a really, really big helicopter -- the CH-47 Chinook.

It also featured a theme that has resonated at Veterans Day ceremonies across the country: the war in Iraq. In his opening speech, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Robert Bechill, the chairman of the Lodi Area All Veterans Plaza committee, observed that some of the soldiers who participated in last year's event have since been shipped off to the conflict.

"They're overseas right now," Bechill said. "Keep them in your prayers. They're in a tough battle."

Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, told the audience that this year's observance is the 50th anniversary of the Congressional declaration making Veterans Day a national holiday. The holiday began in 1918 as Armistice Day, named after the treaty that ended World War I.


Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, right, gives a featured speech Thursday at Hutchins Street Square. (Angelina Gervasi/News-Sentinel)

Were it not for the veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, there might not be a United States to protect, Pombo said. That history stretches all the way back to the Revolutionary War, when a people first banded together to fight for freedom in America, and continues today in Iraq, he said.

"No matter who the enemy, normal people -- whether it's farmers, ranchers, lawyers or doctors -- have banded together to fight and preserve the union," Pombo said.

The ceremony at Hutchins Street Square wasn't the only Veterans Day observance in Lodi on Thursday. Later in the afternoon, a crowd of more than 30 turned out to take part in a flag retirement ceremony.

The ceremony is a way to dispose of American flags that have become frayed or faded with dignity, said Ken Kramlich, the Legion's adjutant. Legion representatives and local Boy and Cub Scouts inspected the flags, which were contributed by community members, to make sure they were no longer fit for use. The flags were then placed into three steel drums and burned. The ceremony teaches people that there is a proper etiquette for treating the American flag, Kramlich said.


Members of American Legion Lodi Post 22 burn frayed, faded American flags at the end of a Veterans Day flag retirement ceremony Thursday. (Angelina Gervasi/News-Sentinel)

Dozens of veterans were on hand at the ceremony at Hutchins Street, some dressed in full uniform. Each was honored during the ceremony with a coin presentation, which members of the Veterans Committee distributed throughout the crowd.

Local youth also contributed to the observance. Lincoln High School's ROTC program -- which Bechill said was nearly eliminated before Pombo intervened -- participated in the Posting of the Colors. The Girl Scouts of Lodi led the crowd soon after in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Music also played a large part in the ceremony. The Lodi Community Band performed throughout the observance, and provided background music when Christine Wied sang the National Anthem. Dr. Raphael Pazo, wearing full Scottish regalia, offered his interpretation of "Amazing Grace" and the famous military retreat "Lochaber No More" on the bagpipes.


Lodi Police Department Honor Guard bagpiper Dr. Raphael Pazo plays the military retreat "Lochaber No More" during the Veterans Day observance Thursday at Hutchins Street Square in Lodi. (Angelina Gervasi/News-Sentinel)

The observance also gave the authors of a book about local veterans a chance to share some stories. "Distant Thunder" is a book assembled by San Joaquin Delta College students and professors featuring recollections from Lodi-area veterans.

Paul Kuehn, a Delta professor who oversaw the project, read a few excerpts from the book to the audience. In one, a World War II soldier tells his tale of being captured by Japanese troops and being force to march to an internment camp. He was 165 pounds when he enlisted; at the end of the march, he was 97 pounds.

Following the ceremony, the crowd moved outside to see a CH-47 Chinook fly over the building. As it passed by, it blew leaves into the air and drew cheers from those assembled on the sidewalk.

Bechill said during the ceremony that such enthusiasm and support is one of the things that makes Lodi a great place.

"Lodi is one of those communities that never forgets those who have served or are serving in a uniform," Bechill said. "We'll never forget your continued and unwavering support."

Contact Business Editor Greg Kane at gregk@lodinews.com.

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