“I looked up, and here comes this airplane in a steep power dive,” Kohler said Sunday at Oakley’s inaugural Veterans Day ceremony. “I’m seeing what I thought were blinking, flashing lights on the front. I am hearing strange popping, buzzing and whizzing sounds all about me. Later, I was told that what I thought were flashing and blinking lights were actually machine gun muzzle flashes, and the popping, buzzing and whizzing sounds that I was hearing were those machine gun bullets striking off that steel hanger door right behind me.”
Kohler’s speech was one of many that gripped the small but passionate crowd gathered at Oakley’s Civic Center Park to honor the 1.2 million U.S. military men and women who have died in battle, the 1.4 million wounded and the 25 million alive today.
“As we raise our flags today, we must remember the men and women of the armed forces of the United States served a great cause,” said Oakley Mayor Kevin Romick. “They have fought our wars, defended our shores and kept us free.”
Ten-year-old Oakley resident Malik Maxwell was one of the smallest participants in the ceremony, but his speech was one of its biggest. The Iron House Elementary student shared his award-winning essay about his late father, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2009 as a member of the Navy.
In his last harrowing battle, Maxwell’s father was credited with saving 24 lives during a battle with the Taliban. “He is my military hero because he unselfishly risked his own life to save others,” Maxwell said.
As American flags lined the edge of the park’s grass, and local groups aimed at helping veterans lined the walkway, local officials stressed the importance of honoring America’s heroes. Civic Center Park will soon be the site of a veterans’ memorial.
“It is up to us to remember those brave men and women who stand up to face our enemies with bold strength, courage and often times, sacrifice,” said Contra Costa County District III Supervisor Mary Piepho. “It is up to us to stand behind our military personnel as a nation of strength to defend what is right, and the many freedoms some of us take for granted.”
The 88-year-old Kohler said the best way for the public to understand the value and cost of freedom is to hear veterans’ stories.
Delta Vista Middle School sixth-grader Maryah Allen knew exactly what he meant. Her uncle serves in the U.S. Army
“The sacrifices of all the members of the military are vast,” she told the crowd. “For my uncle, he said the greatest sacrifice is time away from his family. He says, ‘While this is my biggest sacrifice, there are those that have given the ultimate sacrifice, and that is their life for this country and the freedoms that we enjoy.’”