Bill Harding: Veterans are worth remembering on Memorial Day

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This Memorial Day weekend was a great success, and "the Grand Ol' Wet Days" weren't.

The weather allowed all events to proceed without consequence. While we as a nation celebrate as we choose and attend the events we or our children find exciting or that tickle our fancy, we need to pause to honor those who have given us that opportunity. At the cemeteries in Craig and Maybell, as well as across the nation, that was done.

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We are losing our World War II veterans at a national rate of 1,800 to 2,000 per day. In Craig, we've buried 15 of our own since last Memorial Day. Just as most of our other national holidays, it originally was established to honor the sacrifices of others -- sacrifices that allow our nation, and us, the freedoms we take for granted, and sacrifices we enjoy without thought to the hardships and personal cost families of that generation endured.

I wish to thank all the volunteers who took time to assist with flagging the military graves on Sunday in Craig, and then retuning to remove them Monday evening. A special thanks to the Cassidys, of Oklahoma, who stopped by to find the gravesite of Gale S. Pritchard and pay respect to a fallen veteran. Most of us in the area don't know that Gale was one of the first servicemen from Craig to have been killed in the Vietnam conflict. See the biography below.

I wish to thank Bad Dog wrestlers Jake and Mike Bingham, Tommy Baker, Josey King, Ashley and Charlie Griffiths, Shad, Debbie and Fred Peters, Matt and Chris Moschetti and Devon Mosman; the Craig Sea Sharks' Charlie, Colton and Laurel Tegtman and Ashley; and Centennial Home Care's Judy and Sean Southard, the Bellio family, Dick Maxson, the Watkins family, Ned Miller, Dave Walters, the Brannon family, Donna Adrian, Kristi Hankins and Karel Snell. If I missed you and didn't get you to sign in, I apologize.

I thank all who pitched in to help.

On Monday, we didn't get all the names read. I guess we missed two, mispronounced a few more and missed two graves with flags, but if you figure we read and marked almost 600, we didn't do too badly. That's a less than a 1 percent error factor.

If we did miss your veteran, either by not reading his or her name or not flagging the grave, please contact me, so we can get him or her on the roster and map the gravesite so we can correct our omissions.

Biography of a veteran

Gale Stewart Pritchard, U.S. Army, was born in Hayden, son of Mr. and Mrs. William Hollis Pritchard.

He was killed in action Sept. 14, 1969, while serving with the 189th AVN, Co. at Pleiku, Vietnam.

Gale joined the U.S. Army in March 1967. He took basic training at Ft. Bliss, Texas, and additional training at Ft. Rucker, Ala. He was an honor graduate in Aircraft Maintenance. He arrived in Vietnam in October 1967, and served as a helicopter crew chief near Bien Hoa with the 25th AVN. Co. He returned to Ft. Rucker for more training, becoming an instructor of Aircraft Electrical Systems, which he did until May 1969.

He then volunteered to return to Vietnam and arrived July 4, 1969. Gale served as a crew chief and became a platoon sergeant on Sept. 1, 1969. He was killed two weeks later.

He was buried in the Craig Cemetery Sept. 24, 1969, with full military honors. Flags were flown at half-staff that day.

A special Army honor guard was in attendance, and his pallbearers included several Vietnam veterans who were home at the time. His grave is located in the circular veterans section C, plot 23.

Gale's name is inscribed on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., and is located on wall panel 18W, row 85. His name will be marked on the Moving Wall -- along with Major William E. Adams, a Medal of Honor recipient from Craig -- when it arrives in August. When you visit the wall at Loudy-Simpson Park, from Aug. 9 to 13, pause and reflect on these local heroes.

Enrollment for the

Craig veterans clinic

There is a lot of confusion regarding sign-up for the clinic, which is scheduled to arrive this fall.

If you are currently enrolled and getting services from the VAMC hospital in Grand Junction or Denver, you do not need to sign up again. If you enrolled some time ago and haven't been seen at a VAMC in the past 3 years, or completed its "Means test" in the past year or so, then you have been purged from its active enrollee status, and you must file a new application for service.

If you have never enrolled for VA healthcare, now is the time to do it. Many vets feel they aren't eligible because they did not serve in a combat zone. That is not true. If you served in the military, served on active duty for the minimum required period or were released earlier due to service--connected injury, and received an honorable discharge, you probably are eligible.

There are geographical and national financial thresholds -- adjusted annually -- for those who are insured and have the ability for co-pay. However, don't decide you aren't eligible. Enroll and let the VA determine your priority status and the services it will provide for service- and non-service-connected medical conditions.

I will address the specifics of these issues in later articles.

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