Joel Hawkins made a passionate plea to his two sons, Abe and Blaise, and about 600 people who attended a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday at Dennis Rinderer Park in Highland.
“Listen boys. Be motivated by these stories to get the most from life with gifts you have. Learn their stories. Take courage from their courage. Always remember their cause,” said Hawkins, a Highland High School baseball coach and math teacher and the event’s keynote speaker.
The solemn ceremony paid tribute to 21 local serviceman who gave their lives for their country during a dedication ceremony of the city’s newest road, Veterans Honor Parkway.
“How do we speak to their courage? Many of these (men) volunteered. Some were drafted. All went… There is no eloquence eloquent enough to shower proper honors on these heroes,” Hawkins said.
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About two years ago, Highland Mayor Joe Michaelis came up with the name for the city’s northeast peripheral route. He thought the it would be good way for the city to show its respect to all Highland veterans.
“This road is in memory of all veterans, and especially to those who helped to bring us freedom and let us enjoy the quality of life that we now have,” Michaelis said.
On Monday, the city unveiled 19 banners, recognizing Leroy “Lee” Iten, William Metzger, Delmar Kuhn, LeeVern Heim, William Stecker, Robert Fischer, Walter Maden Jr., Eugene Seifried, William Barrett, Jerome Korte, Delmar Schauster, Paul Siegrest, William Neudecker, Herbert Frey, Neal Rood, Richard Hoffmann, Floyd Roniger, Gary Vasquez and Aaron Ripperda.
Two other banners, recognizing Elmer Braundmeier and William Stecker, were intentionally left blank as the city tries to secure a better photos of these fallen heroes.
Before the dedication, VFW Post 5694 and American Legion Post 439 sponsored a Memorial Day parade.
The three-hour ceremony was highlighted with many tributes made to the fallen local heroes.
Several of those veterans also had families members in attendance. Members of the Rippereda, Vasquez, Roniger and Hoffmann families all spoke, thanking the city and the audience for remembering their families.
Barry DuHasek remembered his brother, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Gary Vasquez, who he said was a “father figure” to him.
“He was my best friend,” DuHasek said.
Vasquez, a 1992 HHS grad and Green Beret, was killed in Afghanistan in September 2008 when his vehicle contacted an IED (improvised explosive device).
Tina Sutton, the mother of Marine Cpl. Aaron Ripperda, said she can’t thank the Highland community enough for the support they have given her son, who lost his life on March 18, 2013 during a live-fire training exercise accident in Hawthorne, Nev.
“Coming here and knowing a community that has shown us much support to our family is an honor and overwhelming,” she said. “It is quite an honor to have a kiosk named in your son’s name.”
Carol Ann Prange and Lois Roniger thanked Highland and the audience for recognizing their brother, U.S. Sgt. Junior Floyd Roniger, who was killed in action Feb. 20, 1969 at the age of 22 during a night battle in the Mekong Delta.
Russ Rieke, past VFW state commander and masters of ceremonies for the dedication, became emotional when he talked about Roniger, one of his best friends in high school.
Rieke, recalled that, before Roniger went to Korea and he went to Vietnam, they met and had a beer together.
“I remembering tell Junior we would be back together, when it’s all said and done,” said Rieke, who still has the flag that draped Roniger’s casket, as tears started to well up in his eyes.
Tom Hoffmann, the youngest brother of Richard Hoffmann, said it takes a community to put on an event like Monday’s. He introduced his two brothers, Kenny and Don, and two sisters, Delores Buske and Kathy Grapperhaus.
Richard Hoffman joined the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He was killed in battle on Sept. 19, 1968 at Quang Nam.
Don Hoffmann recalled his brother was quite a basketball player and enjoyed music.
“He liked to play the accordion,” he said.
The majority of the veterans honored were from World War II. Highland lost 16 young men — Eugene Seifried, LeeVern Heim, Walter Maden Jr., Robert Fischer, William Stecker, Elmer Braundmeyer, Delmar Kuhn, William Metzger, Neal Rood, Herbert Frey, Delmar Schauster, Jerome Korte, Leo Kauhl. William Barrrett Jr., Paul Siegrist and Pete Neudecker — in places stretching from North Africa, to England, Italy, France, Germany, the North Atlantic, Belgium, the Philippines, Ellice Islands, and the South Pacific.
Highland had one solider killed during World War I, Lee Iten, who lost his life in Benny Woods, France, in October 1918.
No matter the location of their battle fields or their final resting place, Hawkins implored the crowd to never forget these men, their sacrifice and what it has meant to their community and the nation.
“Never forget the incredible price tag that attends the enormous purchase called freedom,” he said. “We have so much to live for… because of what these folks were willing to die for. God help us live up to that challenge.”