Tom Keltner was just 17 when he forged his parents’ signatures to join the United States Marine Corps in 1965.
Kelter’s service eventually led him to spend 28 months in Vietnam, where he fulfilled a role as a crew chief and gunner in a CH-46 helicopter.
Fifty years later, Keltner, a member of Maj. Megan McClung Marine Corps League Detachment 1210, led a Veterans Day service on Nov. 11 at Bayview cemetery alongside retired Marine Ed Donery.
The ceremony saw a turnout of about 40 people and began with an introduction by retired Navy veteran and Commander of South Whidbey American Legion Post 141 Kevin McDonald, followed by a prayer by Post Chaplain Darrell Wenzek.
Greg Stone, retired Army colonel and president of the Whidbey Veterans Resource Center, was the keynote speaker. Stone talked about the importance of remembering the extraordinary sacrifices made by ordinary individuals who served a greater power than themselves.
Stone asked the attendees to raise their hands if they were in the armed forces or had family that served. Around 15 veterans raised their hands, while another portion had family that were veterans.
“Your presence here today and that of the people gathering all over America is a tribute to our troops, it’s a tribute to our family,” Stone said. “It’s a way to say we remember, and we honor those who have served a cause which was far greater than self.”
Stone, who has four children and three children-in-law that serve in the Army, felt the heart of the ceremony was taking a moment to recognize the men and women who took the oath to serve the country.
“Our lives are here but it’s a chance to pause and say thank you for those who elected to say that I want to serve our nation,” Stone said.
His hope for younger generations is to know that serving the country is a sacrifice, and that it wasn’t in an attempt to gain anything. He also urges citizens to shake the hands of veterans when they see them at places like the airport.
Donery, a combat veteran of Vietnam, felt the importance of the service was to remind the community that they don’t forget those who fought and died for the United States.
Donery said he hated to have experienced the horrors of combat, but that he would do it over again in a heartbeat.
“There’s that closeness with individuals, those memories that linger with us,” Donery said. “A lot of times, in the beginning, the memories were nightmares and to live with those nightmares as much as a veteran that’s been in combat, it doesn’t go away. It stays with you. You learn to live with it and adapt to it. But, for so long, it stays with you.”
“The flag means so much to me and the country means so much to me,” Donery added.
After the ceremonies were concluded, a service was held at American Legion Hall in Bayview where quilts were given to three veterans in honor of their services.
Kord Roosen-Runge, who served in the Army infantry in Berlin from 1961-1964, was among the recipients. Roosen-Runge is incapacitated with cancer and was unable to attend the quilt-giving ceremony. His wife Cheryn Weiser-Roosen-Runge and 7-year-old grandson received the quilt on his behalf.
The second quilt was presented in memorium of Wheeler Nichols, who died while serving in the Air Force in 2014. He was 20 years old. His parents, Russell and Barbara Nichols, received the quilt on his behalf.
The third recipient was Terri Desrosiers, who served in the Army from 1975-1982. Desrosiers recently reached her milestone of walking 1,000 miles as part of the Veteran Resource Center’s movement and fundraiser Stepping Forward for Veterans. The movement, also known as Walk4Vets, is part of the VRC’s effort to help better connect, educate, and serve veterans, their families and the community.
The quilts were sewn by a collection of women who first gathered at the fairgrounds in 2013 to sew quilts for vets. The event eventually expanded to the 2014 Veteran Quilt Sew-a-thon at the 2014 Whidbey Island Fair, where quilts were donated to veterans admitted at Madigan Army Hospital near McChord Air Force Base.
An average of about 20 volunteers helped create the three completed quilts. About seven more are nearly done and will also be donated to veterans upon completion.
Each quilt was specifically designed for the recipient, but they also held a common denominator, a note that read, “This quilt was made by many quilters who gave fabric, time and love in gratitude for your service.”
Whidbey News Group reporter Kate Daniel contributed to this story.