Coarsegold residents Chuck and Dorothy Lishman called this year’s - the 12th annual - Patriot Day ceremony at Oakhurst Community Park “beautiful.” Chuck wore his Pearl Harbor survivor cap as he slowly crossed the bridge with his wife of 73 years by his side. He served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed in Pearl Harbor to the U.S.S. Perry, a destroyer/mine sweeper. The Perry was sunk that day in December 1941.
“Bill Bastian is one of my neighbors, and I wanted to come support him,” Oakhurst resident Lyle Swanson said. “You know, 9/11 is one of those things that will be with us for the rest of our lives. Hopefully, this country will never have to face anything like that again.” Swanson served in the U.S. Army during peace time, 1957-59.
Joe Whitfield was there with his wife, Stefanie, and 4-year-old son, Wyatt. Their daughter, Haley Clark, sang the Star Spangled Banner with other members of the YHS Chamber Singers. While Wyatt was a little too young to notice what was happening around him (he was more focused on playing), when he’s older he will learn the details of 9/11 from his parents and from a documentary book in the Whitfield home — a book detailing that day with photos and text.
Before the crowd of about 300, the event began with a special flag-raising ceremony and the Pledge of Allegiance. Members of the Yosemite High School percussion section performed. Speeches by District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, and representatives from Assemblyman Frank Bigelow’s and Congressman Tom McClintock’s offices followed.
“The attack against our nation September 11, 2001 was our generation’s Pearl Harbor,” McClintock field representative Christina Hall said. “... On Dec. 7, cooks became gunners and nurses passed the ammunition. On Sept. 11, office workers became rescue workers, and businessmen and women laid down their cell phones and took up hand-to-hand combat in the skies over Pennsylvania.”
The keynote speaker of the morning was World War II veteran, Bill Bastian, 92. Bastian got the crowd laughing immediately by starting off with, “I’m not sure what there is left to talk about.”
Bastian, who took the podium holding a few notes, mainly spoke from memory.
“I think I was invited to talk to you today because I was on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. This apparently qualifies me to be called a patriot,” Bastian began. “I believe I was already a patriot and will explain why shortly....”
“As a teen in the 1930s, we often visited San Francisco when the fleet was in. From the dock, near the Ferry Building, we were taken by small boat to tour one of our battleships. I returned home from these visits confident that America was safe and secure, protected by two wide oceans and these majestic battleships.
“On Dec. 7, 1941, I eliminated the battleships from the list, but still kept the two wide oceans. Following the terrorist attack of 9/11, I scratched off the wide oceans as a deterrent, leaving only our present Border Patrol and Homeland Security. I am now concerned that we have not ended war and our future generations have far more to be concerned about than I did when looking out at the Pacific Fleet ...."
"My father served in France as an Army engineer in World War I. He returned to raise his family. His only souvenir was a German luger, but we never heard a word about his service. I also served in France as an Army engineer in World War II, and returned to raise my family. I was silent for years, but my memories of the war have risen to the surface. I have many stories to tell, but not here and now."
“Earlier I mentioned becoming a patriot before Normandy,” Bastian continued, at times with his voice breaking with emotion. “The definition of patriot is one who loves his country and zealously guards its welfare. I actually became a patriot long ago when I took the Boy Scout oath — ‘On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.’ I have lived my life based on this as best as I can, and hope you all do the same.”
Following the speakers, Master of Ceremonies Rima Runtzel (of Sierra Tel) called veterans up to stand near the podium. They were called by war, beginning with World War II, moving through to those who served during peace time, and then current emergency personnel. Members of Cal Fire, Sierra Ambulance, California Highway Patrol, and the Madera County Sheriff’s Department joined the veterans. The audience expressed their appreciation with a warm and rousing applause.
The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute by the Griswold Mountain Detachment Marine Corps League #1121, the American flag lowered to half-mast, and Cristian Mendoza playing Taps.
When Bastian, who had been sitting in the front row, stood, he was swarmed with hand shakes, hugs, and expressions of gratitude for his service. At one point, when it became a little too much for him to take in, he took a handkerchief from his pocket to dab his eyes.
“From this gathering today we can take with us this certainty,” Hall said. “There will come an anniversary of September 11th when there are no armed guards at airports; no Homeland Security scares; no fears over ports or planes or bombs in crowded places. That day will come to pass because President John F. Kennedy was right: Americans ‘we will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.’”
With Patriot Day signed into law Dec. 18, 2001, the Sierra Tel Patriot Day event has been held annually in memory of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attack of the World Trade Center in New York. It’s an event that also shows appreciation and gratitude to all veterans, active duty military, and emergency service personnel for their dedication to our country and mountain communities. Each year from Patriot Day through Veteran’s Day, Sierra Tel has made a visible statement of patriotism by affixing flags to each of its company vehicles.