Vietnam Veteran Bill Goodreau paused for a moment to collect himself at Monday morning’s Memorial Day service, held a Smith Mountain Cemetery. The Visalia Veteran fought to hold back the tears as he began to remember those he served with who did not make it back.
“I call them the Eternal Young,” said Goodreau of his Vietnam brothers who paid the ultimate price for American freedom.
Goodreau was the Guest Speaker at this year’s event and opened with the humility of a true soldier.
“I’m nothing special,” he told the many gathered on the cemetery’s north lawn. “I was just a draftee off a dairy west of Visalia,”
Goodreau told the story of how he was drafted after just turning 19.
“I was very blessed,” he said. “I was never wounded and never hurt. And it’s a great honor when you can serve your country and not be injured in the service of your country.”
He reiterated that 1.1 million Americans have died for this nation, dating all the way back the American Revolution. That first war cost approximately 4,500 American lives. And around another 3,000 were lost in the Spanish-American War. But those numbers paled in comparison to the World Wars of this past century, with over 116,000 American lives lost in World War I while just over 400,000 lives were lost in the Second World War.
The Korean and Vietnam Wars cost approximately 55,000 and 58,000 American lives, respectively. Of all the wars Americans have taken part in, however, the most lives lost were during America’s Civil War. In that war on American soil, over 600,000 lives were lost – nearly as much as all other American conflicts combined.
In honoring the Veterans of the Valley, Goodreau and his wife have been involved in the San Joaquin Valley Honor Flight for the past 17 years, and have visited Arlington Cemetery just as many times.
“It always makes me think of that quote from President Kennedy, as he says, ‘as we express our gratitude for those who have died, we must never forget that the highest form of
appreciation is not just in words but to live them’.”
He said that over half a million people are buried at Arlington Cemetery and that approximately 25 more people are buried there daily. He also stated that what catches his attention there is the attention to detail, even on the horses.
“The tack is polished, the hooves are polished on those animals, the tails are braided,” said Goodreau. “The Changing of the Guard, the attention to detail exemplifies the fact that our nation certainly appreciates the sacrifice that have Veterans have made.”
Goodreau spoke for the many Veterans in attendance when he said, “What a great privilege it has been to get to the age that we are.” He then recalled to the mind how much more it means that those who gave their lives not only gave up their lives at the moment, but also their future lives – something he said all living Veterans our now honored and blessed to be living.
“I still remember those faces,” Goodreau said as tried his best to contain his emotions. “I call then our Eternal Young. I experience those eternal seconds, where fear scars you for the rest of your life. But then it changes you. And it changes you to give you a sense of appreciation.”
He equated the call to service like a church bell.
“When a church bell is first rung we all know how loud it is,” said Goodreau. “It’s such a clear call to worship and service… But also, similar to that, there is the bell of war that’s rug in all our Veteran’s lives. It was rung and that bell was headed to by all the 1.1 million dead that America has had now to offer on that alter of freedom.”
He added, “That war bell still rings in us, quietly. It’s never quite still.”
Goodreau was later one of three people to lay the ceremonial wreath at the service. Laying the wreath with him was Dinuba High School senior Viclaire Lazoya. As a special presentation for those in attendance, Viclaire recited a monologue she performed as a contestant in this year’s Miss Dinuba Pageant.
The monologue was entitled ‘I am a soldier’s daughter’ and painted the picture of a young girl living with a father deployed in the Middle East. From the fears that came from hearing explosions in the background of phone conversations with her father to learning to appreciate her father for who he is – an American soldier and her forever-hero, her presentation offered a personal perspective of the cost of war.
Unlike her first performance as Miss Dinuba Contestant, where the monologue caught her father by surprise, this time her father, George Lazoya, was at her side during the entire recitation. Mr. Lazoya was the third person to lay the ceremonial wreath.
The Master of Ceremonies for this year’s event was once again US Navy Seabee Veteran George Madrid. In in his introduction, Madrid pointed out how many Veterans are rapidly getting older and showed his gratitude for those who make the annual ceremony possible.
Particularly, he mentioned longtime Lincoln Elementary School teacher Greg Olson. Over the years of the Memorial Day Service at Smith Mountain Cemetery, Olson has provided the music and sounds at each service.
After his announcement this year of his retirement, Madrid said he called him on his service to the annual ceremony.
“I told him, ‘If you go, I go,” said Madrid. He was grateful to announce that Olson has chosen to continue with the annual ceremony.
Olson also brought two students from his final sixth grade class to recite poems at Monday’s service.
Making special proclamations at Monday’s ceremony were Dinuba City Mayor Kuldip Thusu and Tulare County Supervisor for District 4 Eddie Valero.
Welcome was done by US Army Vietnam Veteran David Meals and presentation of colors was done by the local Path Finders Explorers, lead Daniel Toews.
Invocation was done by Pastor Jim Susee of Dinuba Christian Church and the National Anthem was performed by current Miss Dinuba Audrey Menard.
The closing prayer was done by retired Pastor Harry Phillips of the Sequoia Presbyterian Church of Orosi, also a US Veteran.
A hamburger and hotdog luncheon was held at the Dinuba Veteran's Memorial Building following the service.