The Veterans Honor Guard displays the colors during the Veterans Prayer Breakfast at Roswell Elks Lodge No. 969, Saturday morning. Mark Wilson Photo
Members of the community gathered Saturday at the Roswell Elks Lodge to honor veterans and usher in Memorial Day weekend with the ninth annual Veterans Prayer Breakfast.
Bob Bergmark, the Lodge’s district Americanism chairman, welcomed World War II veteran Bill Slade as the honored guest.
Slade, a resident of La Villa, was born Sept. 6, 1915, in Paris, Texas. At 5 feet 6 inches and 115 pounds, Slade was unable join the Army Aviation Cadet program after he completed college because he was considered too small. Slade would not let his passion for flight go unrealized, however, and worked in produce to pay for his flying lessons in the Civilian Pilot Training program in Oklahoma. Slade would eventually fly Spitfires for the Royal Air Force before transferring to the Army Air Corps when the United States entered war.
Bergmark, a Korean War veteran, shared how excited he became while researching Slade’s unique service record, and how much it means to him to honor all those who served.
“What we need to be reminded of is that our freedoms have been bought at a pretty steep price by those who have served in the military, and we have to remember them and make sure that we honor them on Memorial Day,” Bergmark said. “We have to ensure that the public is aware that the military is putting everything they have on the line for us, and we don’t want them to ever forget that.
“We have to take every opportunity that we have, when we meet a veteran like Bill Slade, or are introduced to a veteran, or whatever the case might be, that we thank them for what they have done for us.”
Harry McGraw led the POW/MIA remembrance portion of the ceremony, stating the “sweetness of enduring peace has always been tainted by the bitterness of personal sacrifice.” McGraw explained how the empty chair in front of him represented thousands of American soldiers still unaccounted for from all the wars and conflicts involving the United States. At a table set for one, McGraw said the chair reminds us to spare no effort to secure the release of any American prisoner from captivity.
“We are compelled to never forget that while we enjoy our daily pleasures, there are others who have endured, and may so be enduring, the agonies of pain, deprivation and imprisonment,” McGraw said. “… We call them comrades; they are unable to be with us, and (their) loved ones and families. So we join together to pay humble tribute to them and to bear witness to their continued absence.”
Representing Mayor Del Jurney, Barry Foster spoke of how Memorial Day provides an opportunity to teach younger generations “to remember why we are free, and why we have the freedoms that we do.” Foster shared a story of how his father served with a soldier who went missing in action during Vietnam, and how as a child, Foster used to wear an MIA bracelet to remember him. He said his father taught him to remember all of the sacrifices that have been made for his freedom.
“It’s not a group of men and women in Washington that have given us all these freedoms,” Foster said. “It’s boots made dirty by foreign soil, air that has been swept with foreign wind, and the hulls of ships made wet by foreign seas that have given us this freedom. And so I want us to remember that we have a great nation because of all the people who have served, and I am really thankful that we do set aside this time (to honor them).”