South Lake Tahoe reflects during Veterans Day ceremony |

South Lake Tahoe reflects during Veterans Day ceremony

Jack Barnwell
World War II Navy veteran John Perry (center) explains the details of his cap to Sue Novasel (left) and Wendy David (right) following a Veterans Day ceremony at the American Legion.
Jack Barnwell / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Only standing room remained at the American Legion Post 795 on Wednesday, Nov. 11, as South Lake Tahoe veterans and community members gathered for an annual Veterans Day ceremony.

Some reflected during the ceremony; others shed tears. All shared somber moments during the chaplain’s prayer and benediction.

Pictures and letters created by first graders from Sierra House Elementary School decorated the front of the hall.

American Legion officers, veterans and community leaders reflected on the meaning Veterans Day has for retired and active service members.

“As veterans, we fought with our minds and hearts as well as our bodies,” said Matt Panks, commander of the South Lake Tahoe American Legion post. “On this day, we remember the men and women who set aside their civilian pursuits to serve in a just cause.”

Panks is an Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War.

El Dorado County Supervisor Sue Novasel said Veterans Day is another way to reflect on the loss of veterans who died and to remember their families.

“Nothing can ever replace the hole that was left behind by fallen service members and no amount of medals or ribbons can comfort a family’s loss,” Novasel said.

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Hal Cole reflected on the approximately 23 million living U.S. military veterans, including his 93-year-old father, Hal Cole, Sr., who is a World War II veteran.

“They are the best the country has to offer,” Cole said.

He added that while veterans are amongst most idealistic citizens in the nation, many are also vulnerable because many join the military straight out of high school.

“They often witness war up close in a personal way and the impacts on them can last a lifetime,” Cole said. “My father was one of those idealistic people. I think my father only cried two times in his life: once when my sister died, and another when he was recalling what he saw on a ship when kamikaze pilots hit it.”

He said the best way to aid veterans is to help them endure through the mental horrors witnessed during service.

“Though it is glamorized in movies, war in reality is hell,” Cole explained. “It is the ultimate tool paid with the ultimate price.”

World War II and Korean War veteran John Perry, now a retired Lake Tahoe Community College professor, noted that the ceremonies the American Legion holds are important.

“It’s nice to remember the people we’ve served with, and the ceremonies tie it all together,” Perry said.

In the American Legion’s lobby, veteran Kenny Curtzwiler set up a small display with the names of four local veterans who died due to various causes. He said the display, which includes American flags and a set of plaques, represents family members that South Lake Tahoe lost.

“They are the forgotten ones who didn’t die in the line of duty,” Curtzwiler said.

Two veterans — Navy Petty Officer Third Class Kaleb James Martin Curtzwiler and Nevada National Guard Sgt. First Class Miranda McElhiney — are Curtzwiler’s children. Curtzwiler said his son died by suicide in August 2010 at the age of 28.

McElhiney, 31, died on Sept. 6, 2011, during a shooting at a Carson City IHOP restaurant.

The other two names are Army Specialist Garrett Fant, who died from an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Sept. 26, 2011; and Navy veteran Richard Jacobs, Jr., who died in June 2009.

Curtzwiler agrees with Cole’s assessment that many veterans need support after returning home.

“We sometimes forget about veterans who come home with post-traumatic stress and are in a gray area,” Curtzwiler said.

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