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This year's speakers at the Juanita Pohl Center were Gea Clausier, Bill Manderfeld and Dave DeHart.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Wesley Williams, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, stood with a hearty 'ooh-rah' as veterans from different service branches were recognized Friday, Nov. 8, at the Juanita Pohl Center in Tualatin. Williams says he is homeless.Tualatin-area veterans and their families got a good meal and a sharp salute Friday, Nov. 8, at the Juanita Pohl Center.

The center annually hosts a Veterans Recognition Breakfast on the Friday before Veterans Day, inviting former and current members of the military for a free homestyle breakfast, a raffle and a series of speakers.

Tualatin has some obvious military connections. Its mayor, Frank Bubenik, is a U.S. Army veteran who served in the military police. Tualatin declared itself a "Purple Heart City" in 2015, and it hosts Purple Heart Trail and Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway signs along Interstate 5. One of the oldest buildings in the city is the home of Cpl. Matthew R. Lembke Hall, named in honor of a Tualatin High School graduate who was fatally wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Tualatin also witnessed one of the worst military aviation accidents in Oregon's history in 1952, when a B-29 Superfortress collided with an F-94 Starfire during a training exercise, crashing just south of town and killing 11 airmen.

Friday's speakers all served, and all of them had different experiences.

Retired Master Sgt. Gea Clausier enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1974, to the surprise and dismay of her parents, who didn't understand why their daughter would want to serve in the military.

"I wanted to do my part," Clausier said.

She described some of the obstacles she had to overcome in her career, including restrictions in what jobs women were allowed to hold in the military and sexist attitudes about women's abilities.

At one point, Clausier said, she finally managed to convince her superiors to put her in charge of the armory at the Oregon Air National Guard base, but she had to learn to fire a gun. As it happened, though, Clausier had been shooting since she was a girl, and she astonished the men at the base when she stepped up to the gun range and put her rounds into the bullseye of the target.

"Don't tell me I can't do something, because I'm going to do even more to prove you wrong," Clausier said, to knowing nods and smiles from many of the women in the room.

The other two speakers, Bill Manderfeld and Dave DeHart, both served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Their experiences weren't at all the same, however.

Manderfeld entered the infantry in 1968 and ended up serving with the Army Rangers. He was wounded in action by shrapnel on his first mission with the Rangers, but he carried out 14 more Long Range Patrol missions before he was sent home.

By the time he was sent to Vietnam, DeHart had been in the Army for more than a decade. He had been stationed in South Korea in the years after the armistice, and he had experience in counter-intelligence and special operations. He went to Vietnam in 1969 as a special operations case officer.

Manderfeld was lucky, he told attendees — not only did he survive Vietnam, but he was treated well when he returned home. Although he came back home to find a society that had been changed irrevocably by the war, he said, he didn't encounter the hate and judgment that greeted many returning veterans in that era.

But for all of his years of service and special training, DeHart said he came back from Vietnam in 1970 to anything but a hero's welcome.

"We landed at the McChord Air Force Base, next to Fort Lewis, and got off that plane, and we were all so happy — we were shouting, we were joyful for being home," DeHart said. "And we go into this room, and the first thing this lieutenant says is, 'All right, if you've got any drugs on you, throw 'em in the butt can under your seat, and shut up.' I thought, 'Where's the welcome home part of all this?' And it never came."

As he drove out of the base, DeHart added, a crowd of people had gathered to throw things at the returning service members' cars.

To this day, DeHart said, he likes to greet every veteran he meets with the words "welcome home," because many of them, like him, were never told that when they got back from whichever war they fought in.

The Tualatin Veterans Recognition Breakfast is hosted by the city of Tualatin, which operates the Juanita Pohl Center, in conjunction with the Meals on Wheels People, the Tualatin Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary and local Scouting troops, among other sponsors.

By longstanding tradition, the breakfast honors not only the men and women in the room, but also the "missing man," who is recognized with a table set for one and decorated with symbols of service and sacrifice for those who were killed in action.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Many of the veterans in attendance Friday, Nov. 8, at the Tualatin Veterans Recognition Breakfast served during the Vietnam War era.

By Mark Miller
Washington County Editor
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