King City’s annual “Salute to Veterans” event has been held with – dare we say?- military precision for many, many years. After a two-year break because of Covid-19, it was scheduled to take place on Nov. 6 this year in the King City Civic Association Clubhouse.
But the familiar format was in serious jeopardy this year: The longtime master of ceremonies as well as the pianist, who accompanies everyone singing the military branch service songs, were both sick. Also not in attendance were city officials listed on the program, plus the song leader and two veterans scheduled to speak.
That left Bill Gerkin, who was only scheduled to talk about the King City Lions Club’s Honor Flight program, and Dave Nelson, who was set to play “Reveille” and “Taps” on his trumpet as he has done the last several years, to lead the program.
The only other person on the program who showed up was Craig Benjamin, who is on the leadership team at Southwest Church of Christ; he had been invited to lead the invocation, and he led the group in prayer at the beginning of the event.
So two retired members of the military, Gerkin and Nelson, stepped up and saved the day, leading the gathered audience members through an improvised program that was full of heart, patriotism and music.
“We are here today to honor the veterans in our community and to honor all those who have served,” said Gerkin, who lives in King City and had a little advance notice that he would be leading the program. He explained that Memorial Day honors those who have died in service to our country; Armed Forces Day is to honor all those who currently serve; and Veterans Day honors those who have served.
Gerkin added that King City is a Purple Heart City, earning that distinction on Dec. 2, 2016. The Purple Heart is the oldest military award in the U.S., created in 1782 by Gen. George Washington.
Next on the program was the singing of the military service songs, but with no pianist and no song leader, it looked like that part of the program would have to be skipped.
But Nelson stood up and said, “I can throw a few notes at it,” and Gerkin told the guests to “sing your hearts out like we’re a big crowd.”
With no sheet music to follow, Nelson did a very credible job of playing the songs of the Army (“Over hill, over dale, as we hit the dusty trail…”); Marines (“From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli…”); Navy (“Anchors aweigh, my boys, anchors aweigh…”); and Air Force (“Off we go, into the wild blue yonder…”).
Both Nelson and the audience had trouble with the least-known Coast Guard service song, so they slipped that one.
Gerkin, who enlisted in the Oregon National Guard for eight years before becoming a commissioned officer for 20 more years, told the audience that the Honor Flight program sends veterans on four-day, all-expense-paid trips to Washington, D.C., starting with World War II veterans and now including those who have served more recently.
Since 2009, the King City Lions Club has raised more than $20,000 to support the Honor Flight program by redeeming cans and bottles it collects from the public, starting when the redemption was only 5 cents per can and bottle. According to Gerkin, about 500 veterans from Oregon have taken the Honor Flight trip since 2009.
Gerkin then mentioned several King City/Summerfield veterans who have passed away before he and Nelson on the trumpet led the group in singing “God Bless America;” Nelson concluded the program by playing “Taps.”
While everyone was enjoying refreshments, Nelson talked about his military service. He was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War and served two years in Washington without having to go to Vietnam. He spent 30 years working for the fire service, originally for Beaverton and then for Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.
Nelson, who lives on Bull Mountain, started playing the trumpet in the fourth grade and was a founding member of the Tualatin Valley Community Band, one of three original members still playing with the group.
Lamenting that he hadn’t brought music with him to the veterans’ event because he thought he was only playing “Reveille” and “Taps,” he said, “Too bad I didn’t bring my folder.”