Auburn’s Veterans Day sparks outpouring of support, emotions

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The flags fluttered, the bands marched, the veterans proudly rode or walked and the emotions rolled over thousands who gathered in Auburn for Veterans Day. A parade lasting more than 35 minutes and featuring hundreds of veterans from World War II on turned Lincoln Way in Downtown Auburn into a celebration of the efforts of the nation’s veterans. Christine Dick of Auburn waved two flags and pointed with them to veterans in vehicles as they rolled by along High Street near the Wells Fargo Bank. Wearing a shirt with the words “Proud to be an American” on the front, Dick wasn’t willing to let this parade pass by without letting veterans know how she felt. “I salute you,” she called to one veteran. “Congratulations. Thank-you for saving our country.” Behind the words of thanks was a story – just as so many of the people, both veterans and non-veterans, had their own to tell, or keep to themselves – as the parade rolled by on a warm Nov. 11 in a city far away from any battles or bloodshed. Dick’s story was of a best friend in high school, when she lived at Edwards Air Force Base. His name was John Pohlman and he had been in the Peace Corps as, as she described it, “Cambodia got hot.” Pohlman joined the Army and flew in on helicopters to Cambodia in 1971 to get the wounded out. “He only lasted three months,” Dick said. Dick said she visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and found her friend’s name etched in the stone with the tens of thousands of others. She thinks of Pohlman, particularly on Veterans Day. “Proud to be an American?” one veteran moving by in the parade asks Dick. “Yes I am,” Dick said. And with conviction. Harvey Keller, 69, a 60-year Applegate resident – “except for my time in the Army” – stood nearby with an Army baseball cap on and thought of the time 40 years ago when he was stationed in Maryland with the 11th Cavalry on honor-guard duty. That meant serving at funeral after funeral for fellow soldiers. “We buried a lot of troops,” Keller said. The government can still do more, he said. “Especially for the injured,” Keller said. “And the ones who got killed. They should support their families better.” One of the oldest veterans at the parade – 92-year-old Arthur Bisgaard of Auburn – said he’s finding it easier to keep his emotions in check on a day like Veterans Day than he used to. In the Army from 1942 to 1945, he fought in the Philippines and on Guadalcanal. “It’s getting better all the time,” Bisgaard said. “It used to bother me. My buddies are still over there – forever. Taps – its particularly hard when they play that.” This year’s parade included a short ceremony that included taps, a dove release and gun salute at the new Central Square. The parade was followed by a gathering and short ceremony at the National Guard Armory. Korean War veterans Russell Holland and Bobby Carr served as honorary parade marshals. Korean War veterans were given special recognition at the event, including commemorative medals. Jim Coleman, 80, of Auburn, was on a Navy destroyer at the end of the Korean War. The emotions on Veterans Day are strong ones, he said. “You just think of all your old friends, some who are no longer alive and some who are,” he said. “It’s all the fellas who had to go onto the dirty beaches and dirty ground. They’re the heroes. We just backed them up.”