North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Tulalip, Marysville events honor those who have served


Kirk Boxleitner

Navy veteran Mel Coon, left, and Army veteran Ron Hilton reflect on the nation's past and future at Marysville's American Legion Post 178 on Veterans Day.

His 20 years as an active-duty Marine ended in 1991, but former Gunnery Sgt. Cy Hatch III still reported promptly to the Hibulb Cultural Center on Nov. 11, where he and his fellow Tulalip Tribal veterans were honored for the fifth year in a row.

"I was tasked with training the embassy guards who were there when Saigon fell in 1975," said Hatch, as he took photos of the Hibulb's wall of warriors, which includes his father and two uncles. "That was quite a night."

Hibulb Cultural Center staff member Mytyl Hernandez recalled that the Veterans Day ceremony was the first event ever hosted by the museum, before it had even officially opened, and thanked her fellow staff members for volunteering on their day off.

The ceremony honored the Tribes' seven oldest veterans, including World War II Merchant Marine Moxie Renecker and Marine Stanley Jones Sr., as well as Korean War Army veterans Wayne Williams, Glen Parks, Raymond Moses and Clyde Williams Sr.

Former Army Specialist 3rd Class Art "Hank" Williams was among those seven veterans who received a blanket in the Hibulb's Longhouse Exhibit room, but historic events threw a detour into his planned deployment to Korea.

"We were being trained to go to Korea, but that was changed to Germany on the last night," Williams said. "Russia had crushed the revolution in Hungary, so the balloon went up, as they say. We were scared. We had to load live ammo, which we'd never done before."

Although military members sign on knowing that they might be called upon to serve in war, it's not uncommon for them to find themselves tested in ways they didn't expect. Renecker, the eldest veteran honored, became a combat veteran because his ship was torpedoed.

Tara Haskins likewise found her world changing quickly after she joined the Navy 15 years ago.

"I was already 30, so it was tough enough keeping up with 18-year-olds during PT in boot camp," said Haskins, now a petty officer first class. "But then, 9/11 happened while I was in A-school."

Haskins has since been deployed as part of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, and recounted how her priorities changed in short order.

"At first, I joined to support my family, and to cover my schooling and finances, and also serve my country," Haskins said. "But then, it became about my country first and foremost, and about my kids because it's their country too."

Across the freeway, Marysville's American Legion Post 178 was hosting its own gathering of veterans, in the century-old building that's served as its Legion Hall since 1963.

Post 178 Cmdr. Mike Palomino, sworn in this July, has a five-year plan for the Marysville Legion, not only to carry on its Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies as always, but also to continue the recent series of renovations that began before his term of office.

Palomino, a 20-year Navy veteran who retired in 1990, proudly touted the open house's estimated 60 attendees, and expects the Post Hall's kitchen will be the next big renovation, all the better to accommodate community events and rental activities.

"Facebook has been a big thing for us veterans," Palomino said. "Without it, a lot of us who served together might never see each other."

Hall rental manager Sandra Busse and maintenance man Nelson Balignasay conducted raffle drawings during the free meal for veterans. Balignasay's five-year stint in the Marine Corps began in 1961, shortly after his brother came home from boot camp.

"He told me I couldn't make it, because I wasn't a man like him," Balignasay laughed. "He was pretty proud when I made it through boot camp, though."

Balignasay also credited his upbringing in Hawaii with giving him a strong affinity for the military, since all four branches of the service are represented in the state. However, since Hawaii is a minority-majority state, he was sheltered from what was going on in the rest of the country.

"I had never seen that sort of segregation until I was in North Carolina," Balignasay said. "Even within the military, there was some separation between the races at the time. I never felt excluded, but I was naive and pretty open to everybody."

In light of the divisiveness of recent national political events, Balignasay was able to offer his fellow Americans some hopeful thoughts.

Kirk Boxleitner

Army veteran Gene Zackuse leads the Color Guard during the opening of the Tulalip Tribes' Veterans Day ceremony.

"Wherever I've been in this country, I've always met a lot of beautiful, excellent people," Balignasay said. "It's been my experience that the good always overcomes whatever negatives are happening."

Fellow 1960s veterans Mel Coon and Ron Hilton shared similar sentiments over bowls of ice cream.

"A lot of us have served under presidents we didn't vote for," said Coon, whose four years in the Navy straddled Eisenhower's two terms, before he got out and came back into the Ready Reserve during LBJ's only full term in office. "Whoever it is, you just hope it goes well and he does a good job, and you go from there."

To Coon, it's much like his memories of the military.

"There wasn't much that was bad about it for me," Coon said. "Of course, if you'd asked me when I was still in, I might have given you a different answer. But as time goes on, you forget the bad, and what was good only gets better in your memories."


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