Current and former presidential candidates honored local veterans
By Ashley Mackin | SDUN Reporter
Thousands gathered near the Veteran’s Memorial Center in Balboa Park on May 28, to celebrate Memorial Day with Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and current Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who spoke to honor local fallen veterans and their families. Romney was in town campaigning for the Republican presidential primary election on Tuesday, June 5.
After the presentation of colors, a wreath laying and welcomes by Will Hays and Donald Barnard, Chairman of the Veteran’s Museum and Memorial Center and president of the Vietnam veterans of America Chapter 472, respectively, the large crowd was greeted by the Kister Family Singers with a rendition of the National Anthem and America the Beautiful.
Kim Dang Tran, a representative of the Vietnamese community association sponsoring the wreath laying, kicked off the speaker program.
Following Tran was Marine Corps veteran David Dickey, honored as San Diego County’s 2011 “Veteran of the Year” by the Veteran’s Memorial Center. Dickey said the day makes him think of one veteran in particular. “My father, First Lt. Charles Joseph Dickey, platoon leader [of] Bravo Company, First Battalion, Fifth Calvary Regiment. … I’m so grateful for his sacrifice, for all the sacrifices of those that are not here and I thank everyone who has served.” First Lt. Dickey was killed in action in Vietnam when he was 23.
San Diego City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio then addressed the crowd, and welcomed Sen. McCain and Romney to resounding applause.
DeMaio said for many Americans, Memorial Day is merely the kickoff to summer. “For all Americans, Memorial Day should be a time to remember the brave men and women who have given their lives in defense of the freedoms that we all enjoy today and there is no better city to celebrate Memorial Day than here in San Diego,” he said.
“San Diegans are proud of our military. Thousands of service members [have come] here to San Diego, and still today, to train. Thousands [are] deployed through San Diego and thousands have returned [to] San Diego and made our neighborhoods their lifelong home.”
One of those service members was Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Nick Popaditch, who spoke about the Iraqi people’s response to the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
“I watched them celebrate. I watched them rejoice. I looked in their faces and I realized what I was looking at was liberty,” Popaditch said. “I was looking at people who had grown up under a dictator, had never known a day of freedom in their entire lives. I was in my late 30s and I realized I’d never known a day in my life without it.”
McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, thanked those who served and reminded those in attendance they “should be worthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf.” McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for nearly five years.
“We have to love our freedom, not just for the private opportunities it provides, but for the goodness it makes possible,” McCain said. “We have to love it as much, even if not as heroically, as the brave Americans who defend it at the risk, and often the cost of, their lives.”
Romney started his speech recognizing by name and accomplishment some of the veterans standing alongside him on the main stage. He also offered his definition of greatness and heroism.
“Greatness in a people, I believe, is measured by the extent to which they will give themselves to something bigger than themselves,” he said. “When that sacrifice of self – for purpose and for principle greater than self – surpasses our everyday understanding by the widest margin, we call that greatness heroic. We’re a nation that has been formed and preserved by heroes.”
Romney also told the story of another Memorial Day, celebrated near the end of his term as governor and shortly after he had taken a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan to visit troops stationed from Massachusetts. During the visit, he offered to contact spouses or family members of those serving to tell them they were doing well.
He was given 63 names and phone numbers, and spent that Memorial Day contacting each one, he said. “I must admit I was a little concerned, a little nervous, because this was at a time when the conflict was not going quite so well,” he said. “There were some in politics [at the time] saying we had lost in Iraq and we should just go home, some who thought we should just throw in the towel.”
Romney said he expected that while making the calls, some would ask why their family members were serving so far away. “In 63 calls … not one person criticized or critiqued or challenged our mission,” he said.
The presidential candidate concluded his speech by explaining why the United States needs to commit to supporting an expansive military. “We choose that course … not [only so] we win wars, but [so] we prevent wars because a strong America is the best deterrent to war there’s ever going to be.”
The hour-long program ended with the Battle Hymn of the Republic before retiring the colors and finished with a solemn, “echo” version of taps played by Clayton Becker and Ted Garcia.