Hitting close to home

Veterans Day gains added significance as family faces sending boys to Iraq

Posted: Thursday, November 11, 2004

Today's Veterans Day holiday is different for Reggie Demmert, the proud father said Wednesday.

"Proud and worried," he said, explaining that the two flags flying at his Juneau trailer represent the two sons, Paul and Billy Demmert, who are set to go to Iraq early next year. "My father was a veteran, but that was before I was born."

This year, he is honoring his sons working to become veterans, he said.

Veterans Day, celebrated on the 11th day of the 11th month, commemorating the armistice that ended World War I at 11 a.m. 86 years ago. At 11 a.m. today, Juneau will observe the day at Centennial Hall.

Marking Veterans Day

Two ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. today in downtown Juneau in observance of Veterans Day.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559, in conjunction with American Legion Post 25, will hold a ceremony at Centennial Hall. Doors will open at 10:30 a.m.

Also open to the public will be a ceremony honoring Native veterans at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall, 320 W. Willoughby Ave.

At Centennial Hall, Capt. David W. Ryan, chief of staff for the 17th Coast Guard District, is scheduled to speak and the Alaska Youth Choir is slated to perform.

"We're honoring veterans of the past, present and future," said Gerald Dorsher, a Korean War veteran and commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Taku Post 5559 and a past state commander of the VFW in Alaska.

At the same time, a ceremony honoring Native veterans will be held at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall, 320 W. Willoughby St.

"It's a special day," said Jeremy Lemke, a 1999 graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School who saw service in both Kosovo and Iraq in the Army. He plans to observe it, although he has classes at the University of Alaska Southeast.

He also is junior vice commander at the VFW Taku Post 5559.

Dorsher said there are still a couple of members from the World War II in the post. Wars up through the present are also are represented. "There's a good deal of camaraderie," he said.

It isn't a matter of sharing war stories, he said. "We don't dwell on the past. We serve veterans and their families in times of need."

Lemke said that he was especially honored to be chosen as one of the grand marshals for Juneau's Fourth of July parade this year. He is especially in awe of what the veterans of World War II and Korea accomplished, he said.

"I was only there for eight months," he said. "The guys in World War II, they didn't know when they would go home."

He said the troops have it much easier today, with defined tours of duty, satellite telephones and e-mail communications.

"The combat's still there," he said. And friends tell him he came back from the experience a better person. He is working on a general degree now, but hopes to go into mathematics and forensic studies to work toward being an FBI agent, an ambition he didn't have before his military experience.

"I think everyone should have to serve their country," he said.

Bob Mulready, a Coast Guard veteran, said the day has always been important to him because it's his birthday. Now he has a son who earned a Bronze Star for meritorious service in the last Gulf War. Staff Sgt. Joseph Mulready has found his niche in the Army, his father said.

"He's got almost six rows of ribbons," he said.

The younger Mulready is back at Fort. Bragg, N.C., but he is scheduled to return to Iraq next year.

"I think service does a certain thing to a young man," his father said, noting that he has two other sons who have completed service in the Army.

Glen Ray said he is proud of his son, Forest Ray, who has already seen one tour in Iraq as an Army medic and could be deployed from Fort Bragg again next spring.

His father served in World War II, he added. But he doesn't plan to mark Veterans Day. He said he is concerned for the sons and daughters who aren't alive and well.

"There must be some wars that have valid reasons," Ray said. "I'm happy that some (veterans) have died for us so I can live the life I lead." In Iraq, he said, "the soldiers are another kind of victim of some kind of political thing that I don't understand."

Demmert said his family is looking forward to seeing his sons, who are scheduled to be home from Fort Bliss, Texas, before they ship out to Iraq. "The next time we'll see them will be in two years," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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