Memorial Day is time of remembrance

Veterans, troops, families have stories to share
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Memorial Day can have different meanings depending on whom you ask. Some might say it’s about catching sales at stores. Others celebrate the three-day weekend during a fair-weather time of year. But for many — and the true meaning of the the day — is about remembering those who fought for and are currently fighting for the United States. The veterans When asked what Memorial Day means to him, World War II veteran Andrew Anderson immediately starts to choke up. He takes a minute to wipe away some tears and catch his breath before he answers the question. “I went through a pretty rough siege as part of the under-water demolition team,” the Loomis resident said Sunday. “I lost a lot of friends. On Memorial Day, I like to remember them.” Today Anderson, a member of the Auburn Disabled American Veterans, alongside other area veterans, will celebrate Memorial Day with a commemoration starting at 9 a.m. at New Auburn Cemetery. Howard Staats, of Loomis, also a member of the local Disabled American Veterans chapter, said he hopes people still remember the significance of Memorial Day. “When we don’t have a big crowd on the street or somebody sharing what we share, we feel a little let down,” Staats said. Staats’ war experience lasted for a year with the U.S. Coast Guard and almost a year as a merchant marine. While a merchant marine in the South Pacific, his ship was wrecked on a reef. He said he and the crew floated on life rafts until they were rescued. “I had to swim with the sharks for five days,” Staats recalled. Anderson’s experience was more intense, Staats said. Anderson joined the Navy’s underwater demolition team, the precursor to the Navy SEALs, in 1942 and served until 1947. He said serving in a war brings soldiers together in a unique way. “You form a camaraderie with your ship mates,” Anderson said. “You’re closer to them than your family. You spend 24 hours a day with them. You depend on them to save your life and they depend on you to save their life. When you lose one of them, it makes it hard.” In service While for decades Memorial Day has carried an important significance for Staats and Anderson, it was only in the past few years that the day took on a new meaning for the Center family. Colfax resident Randall Center’s brother, Patrick, has returned from Afghanistan for two weeks, and he will make it home in time to celebrate Memorial Day with his family. Randall Center said his brother inspired him to enlist in the U.S. Army in June 2007. Patrick Center said he joined the U.S. Army about four years ago for a variety of reasons. “When I was a kid I’d always look to up to guys in the military because it was kind of a glamorous thing to do,” Patrick Center said by phone from San Diego. “Obviously that a had a weight in why I did it, but I just wanted to start off adulthood on the right foot.” Randall Center said being in the army has improved his outlook on life. “(The army) kind of makes soldiers better people,” Randall Center said. “I definitely live a more productive life than prior to joining.” He said prior to enlisting, Memorial Day didn’t hold much significance. But during a Fourth of July parade in Colfax, he felt the impact of his brother’s decision to join the military. “Everyone was saying ‘good job, man,’ or ‘God bless you,’ to him and it was kind of an emotional experience for me,” Randall Center said. Martha Center, Patrick and Randall’s mother, said she is constantly thinking of her son while he’s overseas and now feels the importance of respecting veterans more than ever. She said the impact of her son’s decision first hit her when she took him to complete his deployment papers. “I broke down in tears as I realized all the sacrifices the soldiers made who had gone through the same process and are no longer with us,” Martha Center said. “It really hit me emotionally so I’m really, really grateful for the sacrifices of all the military and the fight to bring peace into the world and stop the war on terrorism.” Those left behind Three-year-old Ayden Dean Andrews still talks to his dad, Harley Dean Andrews, even though Harley is no longer at home. Andrews, an army specialist, was killed in action on Sept. 11, 2006 in Iraq. Over the weekend, Ayden put flowers at his father’s grave. Andrew’s wife, Halley, said Ayden recognizes his father in pictures, home videos and scrapbooks. While Ayden doesn’t fully comprehend that his father is now gone, Halley Andrews said she doesn’t try to “sugar coat it or cover it up.” “So far it’s ‘night, night kisses for daddy,’” Halley Andrews of Auburn said. “There’s a huge portrait in my room and he says good night to it and he says hello to it. It’s like he’s still there just not in human form.” Halley Andrews said she is extremely grateful for all of the support she’s received from friends, family and the community. She said never forgets the importance of her family and those who have fought for the country. “I’m so grateful for everything. Not only my husband but our friends and every other active duty soldier who puts their life on the line and sacrifices for our country,” she said. And today, Halley Andrews said Memorial Day is just life any another day. “We celebrate it like every other day,” Halley Andrews said. “We celebrate my husband’s life and everyone else’s.” The Journal’s Jenifer Gee can be reached at or post a comment at