For Craig native Cory Hixson, there are mixed memories from his two tours serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq.
War is hard, and there are the bad memories -- losing comrades, being in a strange land far from home, going days on end with little food or sleep.
And then there are memories that make the sacrifice worth it, Hixson said, and one particular recollection stands out.
Out on vehicle patrol, Hixson said he saw young Iraqi girl cradling her little brother in her arms. The little boy had something of his own on his person:the broad stripes and bright stars of the U.S. flag.
Images like that "alone makes it all worth it."
"It's all worth it when you see those people, and you (know you) liberated their country," Hixson said during Saturday's fourth annual Hometown Heroes Picnic at Craig City Park.
Hixson was one of three featured speakers during the community tribute to America's Armed Services. Those in the crowd answered his words with applause and calls of "welcome home, Marine."
An estimated 500 people attended the picnic, sponsored by the Craig Daily Press with contributions from Pepsi, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265, City Market, KRAI, the Elk's Lodge and the VFW Ladies Auxiliary, among others.
Greg Hixson, Cory Hixson's brother and also a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq, and Navy dental assistant Jessica Carnall, also were featured speakers.
Greg Hixson said a good memory from his Iraq tour was unexpectedly running into his brother. Carnall, who could be deployed to Iraq sometime next year, said she was thankful to the Marines for "giving me my job."
VFW commander Bud Nelson asked the crowd to remember a loved one or friend, or keep "someone in mind," and for each person to quietly pay respect.
"Just take a second right now and think about that person that's your Hometown Hero," Nelson said. He said it's important to always remember those who have given the "total, ultimate sacrifice" in defense of their country.
Nelson also presented The Missing Man Table, a military tradition in remembrance of missing veterans. The table symbolizes, Nelson said, the missing veterans who are "still with us in spirit."
"Please remember quietly and think about those who aren't here to eat with us," he said.
Daily Press publisher Bryce Jacobson said Saturday's event was a success and particularly praised the community's effort to donate wish list items that will be sent overseas to veterans. He said everything from "beef jerkey to books" were collected.
"You name it," he said. "We got everything that was on our list."
Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or firstname.lastname@example.org.