The Union Democrat

Celebratin­g service

Veterans Day ceremony in Tuolumne reflects on current times

- By REBECCA HOWES

The American flag waved majestical­ly in the wind, the sun shined brightly and the sky was a brilliant shade of blue, as approximat­ely 100 people gathered Thursday in the township of Tuolumne at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4748 to commemorat­e Veterans Day.

The ceremony, held on the east lawn of the Tuolumne Veterans Memorial Hall, began at 11 a.m. and featured keynote speaker retired Air Force Col. Debbie Esque, a long-time Tuolumne County resident.

VFW Post 4748 Chaplain Danny Hillier, a native of Tuolumne, a Vietnam Marine Corps veteran, led the crowd in prayer. Hillier asked God to “lay his comforting hands” on those who have lost a loved one in service of their country.

Summervill­e High School and Connection­s Performing and Visual Arts Academy’s award-winning jazz choir, Jazz@8, performed a moving rendition of the “The Star-spangled Banner.” Many veterans stood saluting the flag during their performanc­e.

Chris Henningsen, a Marine Corps Iraq War veteran and member of the VFW Post 4748, was the master of ceremonies. He spoke to the crowd about all of the branches of U.S. military service including the Army/ Army Reserve; Marine Corps; Navy; Air Force/air Force Reserve; Coast Guard; Space Force; and the National Guard.

The Army and the Marine Corps were born in 1775, as was the Navy. The Air Force, originally part of the Army, began in 1947, according to Henningsen, who asked all veterans present to stand or raise their hand as he went through each branch. Each person who chose to participat­e

said their name, branch of service and what years they served.

Many in the crowd gasped when Esque said her dates of service aloud. She entered the Air Force Reserve in 1977, where she began her career as an Air Medical Technician, and retired from the military in 2012.

Esque currently serves as an officer for the Tuolumne County branch of the California Associatio­n of County Veterans Service Officers, Inc., after being appointed to the position in 2018.

Sophia Hsue, 16, who won the 2021 VFW Voice of Democracy Essay Competitio­n $100 Scholarshi­p from the VFW Post 4748, was introduced and made her way to the podium and microphone. Dressed fashionabl­y in a long brown coat, black leggings and black boots, Hsue eloquently recited her essay, made eye contact with the crowd and appeared confident and comfortabl­e.

The theme for this year’s essay was “America – Where Do We Go From Here?”

“Happy Veterans Day,” Hsue confidentl­y addressed the audience.

Clearly in control of the crowd, Hsue went on to talk about her concern which included the “chaotic” withdrawal of our armed forces in Afghanista­n, China’s hostility towards Taiwan and the United States, and the U.S. National Debt.

Hsue said we have ignored President George Washington’s words in his 1796 Farewell Address. The address, in part, states that American citizens need to view themselves as a cohesive unit and avoid political parties. Washington also warned of being wary of attachment and entangleme­nts with other nations.

“Utopias do not exist because human beings are fallible,” Hsue said, stating that it is not merely our “right” but our “responsibi­lity” to “exercise our First Amendment rights.”

The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition, as well as guarantees freedom of expression by prohibitin­g Congress from restrictin­g the press or the rights of individual­s to speak freely.

“The amendment is no use if people are afraid to speak up,” she said.

Asking the question,” Where does America go from here?” Hsue told the crowd to “seek truth and understand­ing,” “unite” and to “promote free speech.”

A rousing round of applause followed Hsue’s speech. During the clapping and cheering one man yelled, “Run for president.”

Keynote speaker Esque was introduced by Frank Smart, a Vietnam veteran and member of the VFW Post 4748 in Tuolumne, who told the crowd that if they knew any veteran in trouble, who needed help, “you go to Debbie.”

Esque had no problem getting the crowd engaged and laughing as she talked about coming from “a family of veterans.”

Her father, who spent 25 years in the Navy through World War II, Korea and Vietnam, had originally planned on becoming a Marine, Esque said. His plan was botched when he went down to enlist and the recruiter was literally “out to lunch.”

Looking to enlist that day, her father had to check out the other branches. The Army line, which was full of people, turned her father off that branch. He ended up joining the Navy, not because they were the best — after all, he wanted to be a Marine — but because the line was shorter, according to Esque.

Her uncles served in the Army and Navy and her brother, who was drafted, served in Vietnam.

A smart guy with a master’s degree in physics, Esque was told that her brother could be an officer, which meant he would serve a three-year commitment. Thinking that amount of time over, Esque’s brother then asked the powers that be how long he would have to serve if he actually enlisted as opposed to being drafted.

“They said two years.

He said, ‘ Sign me up,’ ” Esque laughed.

Describing herself as a “poor college student,” Esque explained that she joined the Army Reserve because she needed to go back to school after getting a bachelor’s degree in physical education, and a minor in business, because she didn’t want to teach.

Telling the recruiter, who she referred to as a “brown shoer,” that she loved to travel, and wanted to get medical experience, she enlisted in 1977.

Knowing she wanted to fly she pursued her dream and in 1979 she got a pilot’s slot.

In 1990, as a married mother of four, Esque would realize her dream of flying missions as part of Desert Storm during the Gulf War.

While in the desert for six months Esque flew nine or ten combat missions in theatre.

Once she returned from the desert as a captain, Esque went to nursing school. She said even is amazed at her tenure within the Army Reserve.

“I had no idea I would spend that much time in

the service,” Esque said.

Referring to Veterans Day as “Our holiday,” Esque said, “You deserve the recognitio­n that this day brings. Thank you for your service.”

Not everyone participat­ing in the ceremony served in the armed forces, such as Ed McClelland, the director of Operation Creekside, a 12-year-old organizati­on that supports deployed military and assists veterans and their families.

“We deliver care packages,” he said. “We are a local nonprofit that serves our community and the nation.”

Tearing up and clearly emotional, Mcclelland explained that his main mission is to deliver patriotic-themed black metal benches to the surviving family members of veterans who have taken their own lives.

Traveling the country to deliver benches McClelland saw “American flags everywhere.”

“We are still a great nation under God,” he said. “God bless America.”

Hsue was asked back up on stage by Henningsen, who presented her with a certificat­e and the $100 VFW Post 4748 Scholarshi­p.

As the blue star flag was raised, Vietnam veteran Kenny Kammerman expertly played taps.

Henningsen asked the crowd to join him in singing, “God Bless America.” Many in the crowd knew the words and sang along.

A closing prayer by Hillier brought the ceremony to a close.

“Bring us together in peace and true comradeshi­p,” he said. “Amen.”

 ?? Shelly Thorene
/ Union Democrat ?? Sophia Hsue, 16, of Sonora, delivers her prize winning essay for the Voice of Democracy 2021 contest, entitled “America, Where do We Go From Here?” to veterans and their friends and family at a service at the 9/11 Global War onterroris­m Memorial intuolumne­thursday. Hsue won a $100 scholarshi­p in the local contest and will go on to compete in the next level.
Shelly Thorene / Union Democrat Sophia Hsue, 16, of Sonora, delivers her prize winning essay for the Voice of Democracy 2021 contest, entitled “America, Where do We Go From Here?” to veterans and their friends and family at a service at the 9/11 Global War onterroris­m Memorial intuolumne­thursday. Hsue won a $100 scholarshi­p in the local contest and will go on to compete in the next level.
 ?? Shelly Thorene
/ Union Democrat ?? Retired Air Force Col. Debbie Esque, 67, of Sonora, recalls moments from her service at the 9/11 Global War onterroris­m Memorial in Tuolumne onthursday.
Shelly Thorene / Union Democrat Retired Air Force Col. Debbie Esque, 67, of Sonora, recalls moments from her service at the 9/11 Global War onterroris­m Memorial in Tuolumne onthursday.
 ?? ??
 ?? Shelly Thorene / Union Democrat ?? Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4748 Chaplain Dan Hillier (above, left) offers a closing prayer with event emcee, Marine Corp Iraq veteran, Sergeant Chris Henningsen (above, right). A veteran of both the Army and Navy,timothy Keddy (right), 71, of Jamestown, stands to be recognized with other veterans for their service with his wife of 43 years, Maggie, by his side.
Shelly Thorene / Union Democrat Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4748 Chaplain Dan Hillier (above, left) offers a closing prayer with event emcee, Marine Corp Iraq veteran, Sergeant Chris Henningsen (above, right). A veteran of both the Army and Navy,timothy Keddy (right), 71, of Jamestown, stands to be recognized with other veterans for their service with his wife of 43 years, Maggie, by his side.

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