Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Hooverfest Pays Tribute to 57 Iowa Sons and Daughters Killed in Iraq

More than 200 family members of the 57 Iowa soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Iraq gathered Saturday at the gravesite of Herbert Hoover (see pic) for a ceremony honoring their service.

“This is a long overdue salute to our fallen Iowa heroes and to you the families, who have given so much in this war as it continues at this moment,” said Ron Steele, veteran KWWL news anchor and emcee of the event.

The ceremony culminated this year’s annual Hooverfest in West Branch, which played host to a day filled with Hooverball, rain, live music, more rain, food and sunshine. Hooverfest grew from residents of Herbert Hoover’s birthplace to celebrate the 31st president of the United States by keeping the flame of Hoover’s humanitarian spirit alive.

This motif manifested throughout the evening’s ceremony as political dignitaries including Culver, former Iowa Gov. Bob Ray and Belgian Ambassador Dominique Struye de Swieland made the connection between the humanitarian and military call to service. “No group better exemplifies the Hoover spirit of service than those Iowans in the armed forces and the Iowa National Guard,” said Culver while addressing the families of the fallen.

Accompanied by bagpipe music, the ceremony that drew the fallen soldiers’ families and honored guests began at the Herbert Hoover Museum and Presidential Library and made its way toward Hoover’s gravesite atop the hill (see pic above). Onlookers stood along the procession and paid tribute to the families by clapping, while some veterans executed a military salute.

The ceremony showcased the Tipton boys’ choir singing the national anthem, a flyover by a CH7 Chinook (see pic left) from Davenport Company B 2nd Battalion 211 General Support Aviation and speeches by Ron Steele, Belgian Ambassador Dominique Struye de Swieland, and Iowa’s Commander-in-Chief Chet Culver. A tribute film honoring the fallen soldiers and fireworks accompanied by contemporary patriotic music followed the speeches.

With the graves of former President Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou Henri, as the backdrop, Culver delivered the keynote address to the families. “Here in front of Hoover’s final resting place, we remember and celebrate the lives of 57 other great Iowans, those who have died since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.”

Tapping into Hoover’s legacy, Culver connected his service to those of Iowans. “Being an Iowan means many things to many people,” Culver said. “However, I believe there is one common bond that unites everyone who has lived in our state, and that’s a never-ending commitment to serving our fellow Iowans. The idea of giving something back to our community still matters in Iowa.” At the apex of his speech, Culver, on behalf of the soldiers killed in Iraq, specifically addressed those left behind in their wake. “As their commander in chief, I would like to say a few words to their families,” Culver said. “Words cannot express my gratitude and appreciation for the sacrifices that your sons or daughters or niece or nephew or aunt, uncle or husband or wife or mother or father have made on behalf of our state.”

“Though you will never to be able to fill the hole in your heart, I want you to know that every Iowan is ready to assist today and in the future in any way possible,” Culver said. “You are a part of the Iowa community, and when we lose somebody too young and so full of life, everyone grieves, too.”

After a moment of silence, Culver made a vow and oral contract with the families that he will do anything in his power to help them through suffering and struggles brought on by their losses. Culver said how proud he was that his first executive order as governor was to lower flags half-staff to honor Iowa’s fallen soldiers. “This simple act makes visible the sacrifice made by these soldiers.”

At the end of his speech, he reiterated Iowans' call to service by quoting another former president, John F. Kennedy, who once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by those words.”

“These 57 eternal patriots that we honor here tonight are the ultimate embodiment of Iowa’s spirit of service and we must honor our own lives in honor of their sacrifice. We must dedicate our lives to the same spirit of service they did. We owe it to them,” Culver said. “Let us work together in our communities and to give our children every opportunity of success, so they may pass this spirit of service down to future generations of Iowans. By doing so, we will make our state better by making the lives around us better, thus paying a lasting tribute to these soldiers on behalf of all of us.”

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