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Kitsap Veterans Day event draws a crowd

About 1,200 people filled the Pavilion at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds on Monday, to pay tribute to veterans of all ages on the day set aside for their recognition.

The gathering, a single commemoration that replaced a combination of several local celebrations, acknowledged veterans from the wars of the 20th Century as well as those now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Said 26th District State Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor) after the ceremony, “This shows a link from the founding of the country to the people who are serving today.”

This year’s commemoration included three members of the state”s congessional delegation — U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell along with U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Belfair).

The presence of Murray, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs

Committee and Dicks, a ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, prompted Cantwell to evoke a sports metaphor.

“It’s like having (Seahawks Quarterback) Matt Hasselback and (Huskies Quarterback) Jake Locker in the same backfield,” she said.

“This day allows us to reflect on the courage of our veterans,” Murray said. “It is made all the more significant as we think of those in the service who are now deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have answered the call and are fighting for their country at a critical time. No matter what we feel about the conflict, they are preserving a proud tradition and deserve our respect.”

“This is a great opportunity to honor those who have taken the pledge,” Dicks said. “They have given selflessly to protect our freedom, and too many of them have made the ultimate sacrifice. But we need to ensure that veterans gave a decent standard of living and gain access to an excellent health care system. We need to make this commitment year-round, not just on the day set aside to recognize their contributions.”

Dicks drew loud applause when he promised he would “provide health care and mental health care that veterans need, and I am not going to rest until this is done.”

Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs Director John Lee said the concepts of war and peace are simple terms that become excessively complicated.

“Those serving today are fighting a war that is different from any one in the past,” Lee said. “For the first time, they are all volunteers. They are dramatically different from their predecessors because they all had a choice, and their choice was to raise their hand.”

Lee said the government’s obligation to the veterans is to “lift the burden off of their shoulders and help them navigate the complex systems they face on their return.”

Local government was represented by Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown, who acknowledged all of the sponsors. “Usually we ask people to not clap until the end,” Brown said. “But in this case I think we can give each one a round of applause.”

The ceremony ended with a rifle salute, with the sound of the shots and smell of gunpowder reminding attendees of war’s reality and exactly why veterans deserve respect.

“This is a great turnout,” said Naval Base Commanding Officer Capt. Reid Tanaka. “It proves that Kitsap County is a military-friendly place.”

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