REEDLEY – More than 50 people gathered on a cool Thursday morning on the Reedley College campus to celebrate the history and sacrifice made by United States veterans.
Held on Nov. 9, the Veterans Day Ceremony at the Reedley College Veterans Memorial Park featured remarks from the college president, a guest speaker and music from Reedley College students. The ceremony brought together students, Reedley College faculty and staff, community members and local veterans for an opportunity to reflect on how veterans have impacted their lives and had their own lives impacted by their service.
“Our veterans represent the best of us,” Jerry Buckley, Reedley College president, said. “People who stepped up and stepped in, both in times of peace and in times of worldwide conflict.”
To open the ceremony, Jason Boyer, the Reedley College information systems instructor and a U.S. Navy Veteran, provided a brief history of Veterans Day, quoting President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 as he introduced the holiday — which was first Armistice Day — on the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.
Boyer noted that at that point in time, the country’s generation of young people — many similar in age to Reedley College students — had returned home after seeing destruction on an industrial scale, “something at that time that had not been witnessed in the history of humanity.”
At the ceremony, the Reedley High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) completed the presentation of colors, Reedley College Associated Student Government president Dejalia Borquez presented a ceremonial wreath and student Alexis Gomez sang “God Bless America.”
Additionally, student Tom Bear played “Taps” during a moment of silence presented by student and current U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Kinidio Prado and a saxophone quartet made up of students Isabella Battad, Erick Tapia, Laveren Gomez and Noah Gurrola played the National Anthem.
For his remarks, Buckley said it is important to remember and honor all veterans, regardless of their rank or assignment.
“Every generation has been challenged by conflicts and disasters of some kind in regions around the world, but we have been fortunate to always have men and women who have joined the armed services in order to help others and represent our interests, and to defend our principles upon which our country is founded,” Buckley said.
Buckley added that many veterans — including a close family friend of his who died a few years ago — have spent their time after their military service serving their communities in other ways.
“I’d like to think that all of our veterans really see that difference that many of us do about service to our communities and service to our country, so I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you that have had that opportunity and participated in that opportunity every day,” Buckley said.
The guest speaker at the event, Reverend Jeff Wheeland, who is a pastor at Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church and a U.S. Army veteran, discussed his life, his time in the Army and the different battles that people in the armed services face that many may not know about.
Wheeland was born in Honolulu, as his father was in the Navy, and spent time living in New York and Colorado before attending college. He went to Wheaton College, where he was in the Army ROTC, and became a second lieutenant working as an air defense artillery officer upon graduation. He then transferred branches to the Chaplain Corp and served as an Army chaplain during the Iraq War.
For his speech, Wheeland spoke about the five “battles” that military veterans fought that Americans may not know of: foe, food, facilities, family and fallout. Of the foe, Wheeland explained how soldiers in the Iraq War died from bombs hidden throughout the country and how many come back disliking fireworks because of how it reminds them of combat.
Of food and facilities, Wheeland said that the food he had while in the Army was much better than he expected, but the facilities on the battlefield were not comfortable. Regarding family, Wheeland talked about how many of the people in his unit got divorced while they were overseas because of the toll that military service can take on a family.
Regarding fallout, Wheeland discussed how difficult it can be for soldiers to return from combat and how important it is for people to reach out when they are struggling and need help.
“I’ve learned from combat that not all wounds are visible; some of us have invisible wounds, some of us have come back from Iraq or Afghanistan, or you’re even saying … I have wounds from different battles that I’m facing right now,” Wheeland said. “I would love that opportunity to pray for you and encourage you and listen to you and provide support.”