Thursday, August 2, 2007

West Branch’s Hooverfest to Honor Iowa’s 57 Fallen Soldiers

Gov. Chet Culver’s first executive order as Iowa’s commander-in-chief called for all flags on state grounds to be flown at half-staff to honor fallen soldiers. Since Culver signed the directive Jan. 27, eight Iowa soldiers have been killed in the line of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. On May 28, the Iowa Independent asked: “So what about the 49 fallen Iowa soldiers who were killed in the line of duty before Gov. Culver was sworn into office and issued his first executive order? Maybe one day in Iowa, flags will be flown half-staff in their honor.”

West Branch, the birthplace of Herbert Hoover, has responded by planning to honor all of Iowa’s fallen soldiers at the annual Hooverfest. A private reception will be held for the fallen service members’ families on Saturday, which will be followed by a 7:30 p.m. procession to the nearby Hoover grave site for the public ceremony.

Accompanied by bagpipe music, a procession that includes families representing 57 Iowans killed in Iraq will hear Culver and Belgian Ambassador Dominique Struye de Swieland each give an address. A wreath sent from the White House will be placed on the grave-site monument, and Iowa Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Jodi Tymeson will read a letter sent by President Bush. There will also be a tribute film honoring the fallen soldiers, music by the Tipton High School Boys’ Choir and a surprise by the Iowa National Guard. The evening will end with fireworks scored by patriotic music.

The occasion will mark the first time Culver will address the soldiers of the 133rd Infantry Battalion and their families since their return to Iowa. Although Culver greeted the soldiers upon their return to American soil at Volk Field in Wisconsin, he did not attend last week’s homecoming at Riverfront Stadium in Waterloo. Culver’s absence did not go unnoticed by some of the attendees as John Carlson notes in the Des Moines Register:

There was some "where's the governor?" grumbling among relatives who gathered to celebrate and honor the battalion that spent nearly two years on active duty,
including 15-plus months in Iraq. The Iowans served longer continuously in Iraq
than any other military unit since the war started more than four years ago.

Some - Richard Elliott of Carson, for instance - wondered why Culver didn't show. "These are his boys," said Elliott, who was there to greet his son-in-law. "He should have been there…It's about respecting these soldiers…This is his state. He should have been there. Everybody sitting around me thought the
same thing."
Brad Anderson, communications director for the governor, responded to the Des Moines Register that:

"Culver went to Volk Field in Wisconsin to greet the soldiers when they arrivedthere a week before they came to the Waterloo event. He was there on the tarmacto greet them as they got off the plane," Anderson said. "It was a more intimatesetting and more meaningful than giving a speech when all the family members
wanted to do was greet their soldiers."

Anderson said Culver discussed all this with Maj. Gen. Ron Dardis, the top-ranking Guard officer in Iowa, and they agreed the governor should be in Wisconsin.

"The governor and General Dardis both thought that being the first to greet them was the best way for the governor to welcome them home," Anderson said. "The governor believes they are true heroes. He had a great visit with them and was able to talk with them on a one-on-one, intimate level."

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