The smoke filled sky did not diminish the beautiful afternoon Veteran’s Day celebration at the Snyder Lane Community Center. Over two dozen girl scouts gathered around their leaders as they reviewed one more time in the center court their flag retirement ceremony that would end the festivities.
The oval turnaround off Snyder Lane greeted visitors with twenty-five American flags flapping in the light breeze. The Rohnert Park Community Band resounded with a musical prelude of military and marching songs as spectators entered the community center. Ten minutes before the celebration officially began, the auditorium seats were all taken.
Pictures and stories of servicemen decorated the sidewalls. These replica banners, smaller versions of the banners that hang along the Rohnert Park Expressway, reminded everyone of the local young people serving in the military.
Girls from the Rancho Cotate High School Flag Team presented the colors as they marched the length of the room to deliver the flags to the stage. Mayor Pam Stafford led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the band followed with its rendition of “The Stars Spangled Banner.” After she recognized some dignitaries, Mayor Stafford noted that it was the hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day. She declared that all had “come together to honor our service men and our veterans who have kept us safe.
Andy Durkee introduced the keynote speaker, Dan Gossage, a Rancho Cotate graduate who joined the Coast Guard in 2008. Gossage recalled some of his many adventures working on a high-endurance Coast Guard cutter whose primary mission was drug interdiction off the coasts of Latin America. He discussed his work with Search and Rescue, especially with hurricane rescue during the Houston flooding. As he told the story of saving a woman in a floating refrigerator, he remarked that he had “no more proud moment than this,” as he and his comrades made eleven hundred rescues in three days. Gossage recalled another rescue off the Golden Gate where, he said, the Friendly City motto seemed to show that it had rubbed off him as he convinced a lady not to jump into the threatening ocean so that she could be saved.
The Vintage Choir followed the keynote speaker with a four and a half minute captivating reprisal of the Norah Jones’ song from Ken Burns’ documentary, “The War.” Its refrain, “America, America, I gave my best to you,” underscores the theme of the humility the American military man displays in his service. The song culminates with the notion that every task in the military is necessary and important: “Know each quiet act of dignity is that which fortifies/The soul of a nation that never dies.” The choir rose to a fine crescendo in the last minute with “I gave my best to you.”
Andy Durkee, Military Banner Coordinator, explained the history and the purpose of the banners. He reported that fifty-seven banners had been installed since the inception of the program in 2011. Then he spoke about the five latest honorees and their families who would receive small replica banners.
Private First Class James McCoy, a 2017 Rancho Cotate graduate, joined the United States Army Infantry and soon completed basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He and his wife, another Rancho graduate, live in Oahu, Hawaii, where he performs simulations and attends training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Private McCoy ranked as an “Expert” in “Marksmanship,” has accomplished one of the highest achievements for infantrymen.
Lakota Sims, another 2017 Rancho Cotate graduate, who was active in many local sports, joined the Navy in 2018. He trained to become a Damage Control man and is now stationed in San Diego on the USS Compens.
Jaxon Crothers, a varsity wrestler and football player, graduated from Rancho Cotate in 2016, and then followed in his great grandfather’s footsteps by joining the Army. A Fire Support Specialist, Crothers is currently stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, the largest missile and artillery-training base.
Julia Guerrero, a 2017 Rancho Cotate graduate, who played basketball all four years and held many offices in student government, spent her 2017-2018 school year at the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Rhode Island. Upon completion, she accepted an appointment to the Coast Guard Academy. This four-year military academy graduates commissioned officers with a bachelor of science degree. She will then have a five-year commitment to serve in the Coast Guard. Next summer she will sail aboard the tall ship Eagle on an extended training cruise.
Connor Ehrmantraut, a 2017 El Camino graduate, chose the United States Navy to follow in the footsteps of both his grandfather and uncle. Having completed boot camp and technical training, he is now an engineman who is currently deployed at Naval Support Activity Bahrain.
Following the banner presentations, the band and the choir performed service songs. Veterans from each branch stood while their service’s song sounded. The ceremony ended with Girl Scouts telling about the retirement of flags, the meaning of the parts of the American flag and historical episodes during the American Revolution. Mayor Stafford acknowledged all who made this day possible and the event concluded with a martial air from the community band. Rohnert Park paid its tribute to its veterans and its active military people.