Essential tribute: Veterans Day program moves online

— Created November 4, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

The Oak Harbor Area Council of the Navy League will hold its annual Veterans Day program next week, but those interested in “attending” will be able to do so from home, or wherever they choose to stream a live broadcast of the event.

For the first time in its 16-year history, the Navy League’s community Veterans Day ceremony will be streamed at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11, on multiple social media platforms.

“We will broadcast live on local channel 10, and on Facebook Live – currently we’re on 19 different pages, and we welcome more if anyone is interested in helping us host,” said Greg Smith, president of the local Navy League council. “We will also be live broadcasting on the Oak Harbor Lions Club’s YouTube channel for those without access to Facebook.”

Putting together a digital celebration has been a long, if rewarding, process. According to Smith, one Navy League member in particular was instrumental in helping the organization plan and prepare the program.

“This year’s production was quite a challenge due to the COVID restrictions, but Kelly Davidson brought her experience and success from her Memorial Day virtual celebration and her meticulous attention to detail to the table to produce our first digital Veterans Day celebration,” Smith said. “We’ve been working on this since August, with regular meetings and ideas within our Veterans Day committee, plus reaching out to various groups and individuals. Each segment was recorded individually, following COVID guidelines. Our production team will be ‘stitching’ each segment together to produce the full presentation. We are very thankful to Oak Harbor High School for the use of its facility and support personnel who assisted with our project.”

The end result will be a unique program designed to celebrate Whidbey Island’s many veterans.

“We are excited that our program will feature two veterans, Navy Cmdr. Clayton Engebresten, of South Whidbey, a World War II veteran; and U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Robert Olivarez, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, regional commander for the Military Order of the Purple Heart and a two-time Purple Heart awardee,” said Smith. “We will also be joined this year by Congressman Rick Larsen, Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns, Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett from Navy Region Northwest and a representative from the nonprofit group Growing Veterans.”

Smith said this year’s speakers will address topics ranging from support available to veterans, the relationship between the City of Oak Harbor and the Navy and veterans’ mental health, especially in light of the pandemic.

“COVID has certainly taken its toll on our veterans due to the isolation and exacerbated by the ‘lockdowns,’” he said. “Prior to the COVID pandemic, our country would experience losses of about 22 Veterans every day to suicide and there are indications this has increased. Growing Veterans representative, Tonelli Gruetter, said suicide rates among active duty veterans have increased by an average of 20 percent since COVID started.”

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Smith hopes people will remember to pause Wednesday, marking the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to focus on the importance of what the nation’s veterans have done, and continue to do, for our country.

“We refer to those individuals who survived the Great Depression and served and sacrificed during World War II as the ‘Greatest Generation’ and rightfully so,” he said. “This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. Consequently, only a very small number of veterans survive to tell their story—stories of unrelenting, sheer terror as well as stories of great success.

“As a country, we cannot allow time to diminish the importance of our participation in this war,” Smith continued. “We cannot allow our children to live their lives ignorant to the sacrifices that were made nor the reality of the potential consequences if our great country turned our cheek to the necessity of our involvement. Conflict is inevitable. Remembrance is essential.”