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Celebration of Honor

Native tribe and casino let veterans know they aren’t forgotten

Flags on the Field of Honor flap in the breeze from the Pacific Ocean. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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For the past 15 years, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon has hosted the Celebration of Honor at the tribal-owned Chinook Winds Casino Resort in Lincoln City, Oregon. The public event honors active-duty personnel, military veterans and their families over five days on the casino grounds. There are veterans in the Siletz Tribe from all different eras to include World War II veteran Ed Ben.

Tony Molina is the Tribal Veteran Representative and Director of the Honor Guard. "The first year we held the event there were lots of WWII vets and lots of excitement."

The Siletz Tribe and the casino sponsor the event so that there is no commercialism, selling, or advertising, and the focus is solely on those they wish to honor. This year's event took place Sept. 25-29 and was jam-packed with activities. One of the highlights was the arrival of the Oregon Wall of Honor, which was escorted from Toledo to Lincoln City by over 30 vehicles including motorcycle organizations from all over Oregon and first responders. "I was so impressed by the cooperation between all the police and fire chiefs in the towns along the route. It was very moving how people will pull over their cars and salute as the wall passes by," said Molina.

The Field of Honor is a stunning display of 1,000 full-size flags set up on the casino grounds overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The traveling memorial is run by the Veterans of Oregon, a group of volunteers dedicated to ensuring that the service and sacrifices of every veteran will never be forgotten. The group also presents an Honorable Service Medal, made in America to those who have served honorably in the Armed Forces. The medal is for residents of all states but must be presented in Oregon. The medal ceremony took place as part of the Celebration of Honor. Members of the Siletz Tribe Drum Circle performed as the Tribal Honor Guard posted the colors. It is very moving to see veterans from WWII to the present receive their medals.

"This event means the world to me," said Jesus Montes, who attended the Celebration of Honor for the first time. The WWII veteran also served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. "It brings back a lot of memories of veterans I was with, both male and female, who lost their lives over there."

He met his wife, who was a member of the Women's Army Corps while serving, and their wedding attire was their uniforms. Montes went through a rough time returning from Vietnam, only to have tomatoes and trash thrown at him and called a "baby killer." He suffered from PTSD and the effects of Agent Orange before seeking help. He now volunteers with nine different veterans groups and makes an effort to reach out to our younger veterans. "I know exactly what they are going through and I encourage them to seek help if they are struggling. I consider them all my kids now," he said.

In addition to all the activities, the casino provides an event tent for Veteran Services. Representatives from the Oregon VA and other nonprofits who provide support to veterans have a location where they can reach out to those attending the event and give them information on what types of support are available.

The Celebration of Honor takes place annually at the Chinook Winds Casino Resort during September. Lincoln City is about a four-and-a-half hour drive from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Author's Note: As a journalist you try to remain impartial while covering a story, but as a veteran, I found myself very much a part of this story participating in all the events, listening to fellow veterans share their stories and many times I was moved to tears watching the positive effect this event had on so many. Quite a few veterans took advantage of the services offered by the many organizations set up in the services tent. Veteran Suicide continues to be an appalling statistic. Events like The Celebration of Honor help pair hurting veterans with the help they need. 

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