The 2015 Memorial Day Sunrise Service in Blanding was a little short on sun, though not any more chilly than usual, despite a snow-covered mountain in the background.
However, no one noticed the cold as they listened to the words of veteran Will Walker, who recently retired as a master sergeant after 22 1/2 years of military service. Walker has lived in Blanding since 1999, and most of his career was in the Utah National Guard.
For those who missed an outstanding ceremony due to the weather, following is a slightly condensed version of Walker’s speech:
“…I started to think about patriotism and then I wondered where it starts, this love of country that a person gets — a love so strong that it makes young men and women from all walks of life willing to join the greatest fighting force the world has ever known, and give up their lives, if necessary, to protect it.
“Where does this love come from? Love of country usually comes from home. No doubt mine did. I didn’t realize that I was being taught it at the time. I was born and raised in West Valley, the second to youngest in a family of seven boys and one girl.
“I was raised to be tough; I had to be to survive with five older brothers. I was taught to respect the flag and what it stands for. This is so ingrained in me that still today I can’t hear the national anthem being played, see the flag go by, hear the pledge of allegiance, or even see the flag raised without getting choked up — and usually a tear or two with it.
“When I was growing up, I had goals just like every kid: I would be a professional football player. My fallback plan was to be a police officer. Not once did I think I would be a soldier. Not until two days before I joined did I start to realize what it costs to defend this country.
“My father served in the Navy during WWII. I had two brothers in the Army and one in the Air Force. My oldest brother was called up in 1990 to serve in the Gulf War. That is when the cost first started to hit me. I was 18 and still wrapped up in myself as a teenager, not thinking too much about others.
“I realized that my brother had left his wife and six children at home while he served our country. So I went to the recruiting station and signed up.
“Over the 22 years that I had the opportunity to serve, I came in contact with some of the finest people in the world. Any soldier can tell you that when he is deployed, he is fighting for his family, but he is also fighting for the man next to him.
“As I look back at my time in the military, I remember many things, both good and bad. I remember lessons I learned from great leaders. At the time, some seemed hard, but they made me strong.
“I remember the long days that sometimes lasted weeks, during difficult training missions. They made me a better soldier. I barely made it back in time from a training mission to witness the birth of my first son. That helped me appreciate the joy of being around for the most important events in life.
“I remember going to Iraq, Nicaragua and Cambodia, and feeling extremely grateful for the many things we have in this country, that we take for granted on a daily basis — something as simple as running water and a warm place to sleep.
“I remember the missed events in my family’s lives: birthdays, anniversaries, sporting events, numerous holidays, and other events that fathers should be at.
“It gave me a deep appreciation for the sacrifices made by a soldier’s family. It also gave me an even deeper appreciation of the sacrifice of my brothers and sisters who paid the ultimate price with their lives, so I could be with my family in the future.
“I remember participating in too many military funerals to count, providing honors to those who sacrificed so much. I remember sitting with grieving parents and trying to offer what little comfort I could for the loss of their son.
“I remember the day that I was called to my battalion headquarters, only to be told that one of my best friends and brother, Jim Thode, had lost his life in Afghanistan, leaving a wife and two kids. In the months that followed, as I spent time with his family, it made me truly appreciate the cost of freedom.
“I remember the day I took off my uniform for the last time. It made me realize the blessing that I had been given over the past 22 years. It made me even more grateful for those who had served with me and before me. I felt undeserving and in awe to be in their company.
“It’s interesting how different generations of veterans respond to being thanked for their service. What is common throughout all generations of veterans, however, is the absolute insistence that the gratitude truly belongs not to them, but to their fallen brothers and sisters who paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
“So, how do we truly show that we are grateful for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice? First, if you choose to complain about your country or community, you should be prepared to do something about your complaints.
“If you don’t like the way your elected leaders are doing things, get out and vote for someone else, or better yet, run for office yourself. You may find that their jobs are not as easy as you think.
“Second, provide service to neighbors, community, and anyone else in need. I know that is what my friend Jim would want. Even before he gave his life serving his country, he spent his life outside of the military serving others.”