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Memorial Day: ‘A day of remembrance and mourning’

Ronald “Jake” Clark
U.S. Army veteran Ronald “Jake” Clark delivered the Memorial Day address at the Highland County Veterans Memorial in Hillsboro on Monday, May 29. At left is VFW Post 9094 Commander Rick Wilkin, who served as the emcee. (HCP photo by Rory Ryan.)
Rory Ryan, The Highland County Press

Ronald “Jake” Clark, a U.S. Army veteran of the Cold War era and the California Army National Guard during the post-9/11 era, was the guest speaker for the 2023 Memorial Day observance at the Highland County Veterans Memorial in Hillsboro on Monday, May 29.

VFW Post 9094 Commander Rick Wilkin was the emcee of the Hillsboro services and introduced Clark following an opening prayer by Vietnam veteran Chuck Emery of the Roy W. Wilson American Legion Post 694 in Mowrystown.
During a break in his military service, Clark also served with the U.S. Secret Service, the Los Angeles Police Department and as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

While an MBA student at Pepperdine University, he interrupted his studies to found Save A Warrior – – in 2012 in Malibu, Calif. A sought-after public speaker on the challenges of veteran transition and reintegration, as well as his work with first responders exposed to workplace trauma, Clark’s passion for serving those who serve has inspired several films and news articles. In 2015, he received the WebMD Health Hero Award for his work in veteran advocacy. In 2017, Save A Warrior was declared a winner at the second annual VA BrainTrust: Pathways to Innovation for its disruptive and pioneering approach to ending veteran suicide.

During his speech, Clark noted that Memorial Day really hit home for him in July 2007 at a Minneapolis airport.

“I looked at a list of those killed in Afghanistan and saw Thomas McGee, 23. That’s when the meaning of Memorial Day hit me,” Clark said. “I served with Tommy in Kosovo, He was the most handsome, beautiful human being you've ever seen.”

U.S. Army Sgt. Tommy McGee of Hawthorne, Calif. was killed July 6, 2007 from injuries caused by a roadside bomb in Wazi Khwa, Afghanistan.

Clark said veterans pay a “hell of a price for what we take for granted every day. This is always paid for in death – in people not coming home. One percent of Americans serve so the other 99 percent can sit back and do whatever it is they do. I spend Memorial Day thinking about Tommy McGee and what his life could have been.

“Today is not a celebration,” Clark said. “It is a day of remembrance and mourning. Let not their sacrifices be in vain.”

Clark thanked the VFW Post 9094 and all the veterans organizations that helped with the Memorial Day observance. Individually, he noted that veterans Rick Wilkin and Chuck Emery are “national treasures” right here in Highland County.

• • •

During his opening remarks, Wilkin read from a speech he'd heard by Bob Stevens of Allensburg.

"Monday will be the most expensive holiday on the calendar. Every hot dog, every burger, every spin around the lake or drink with friends and family is a debt – purchased by others. This is not about all who served. That day comes in the fall. This one is in honor of those who paid in life and blood; whose moms never saw them again, whose wives raised kids alone and whose kids only remembered them from pictures. This is a day to remember that others paid for every free breath you ever get to take."

In addition to Clark, Wilkin also introduced several other speakers, including Highland County Commission President Terry Britton, Cailin Hoskins of the Highland County Veterans Service Commission, Pat Ziesmer of the VFW Post 9094 Auxiliary, Steph Roland of the VFW Post 9094 Auxiliary, and Russ Roever, who led the POW/MIA Missing Man Table Ceremony.

In addition, Wilkin thanked Hillsboro High School band director Kevin Grow, sound technician Brian Vance, vocalist Dianna Coffey and flutist Jennie Harner, Mr. and Mrs. Rick Tipton for their work on the Veterans Memorial at Liberty Park, Cub Scout Pack 120 and all the veterans and citizens in attendance.

Coffey and Harner performed musical selections throughout the program. They led those in attendance in the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
The Hillsboro High School marching band, along with Coffey and Harner, performed each branch of service's song, inviting veterans from each respective branch to stand and be recognized:

• U.S. Coast Guard, “Semper Paratus;”

• U.S. Air Force, “The Air Force Song;”
• U.S. Navy, “Anchors Aweigh;”

• U.S. Marine Corps, “The Marine Corps Hymn;” and
• U.S. Army, “The Army Goes Rolling Along.”
After reading “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae, Roland asked local Gold Star families to stand and be recognized. In addition, Grow asked that Hillsboro High School band member Gaven Lucas be recognized. Lucas leaves for basic training in the U.S. Army on June 27.
At the end of the ceremony, the Highland County Honor Guard provided the three-volley salute, along with the playing of “Taps” by Hillsboro High School band members, including longtime local firefighter, paramedic and U.S. Navy veteran Marc Bayless.
Wilkin thanked those in attendance for observing the Memorial Day services, as well as thanking all of the veterans in attendance and all those participating in the ceremony.

VFW Post 9094 Senior Vice Commander Dwight Reynolds delivered the benediction.


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