A day to remember

(Above) Don Christ and Mike Nelson fold the flag as Officer of the Day Steve Merrill explains the meaning of each fold.

V.F.W. hosts Memorial Day services

by Marianne Gasaway

For Lance Ashland, Memorial Day— the official start to summer, has always meant more.  

“My grandfathers and three great uncles were World War II veterans, so I knew early in life Memorial Day was more than the unofficial start of summer.  This is the day we remember the fallen. But in all honesty, this day didn’t become personal until I retired,” Ashland told those gathered at the Clear Lake Cemetery Monday for services.

Lieutenant Colonel Ashland, who is now retired from the U.S. Air Force, told his story as Guest Speaker for the local Memorial Day observance.

(L-R) Officer of the Day Steve Merrill, United States Army (Ret.), V.F.W. Post 4868 Commander Mike Nelson, Guest Speaker Lt. Col. Lance Ashland, US Air Force (Ret.) and Chaplain of the Day Don Christ. - Reporter photos by Chris Barragy.

“That first Memorial Day after retirement hit me really hard.  I had a 28-year adventure, touched six continents, participated in rewarding missions, and served with the finest people on the planet.  But over the course of my career, five men I knew from training, or was stationed with, died in aircraft accidents. They were sons, husbands, and four of the five were fathers. Like all who serve, I had some close calls, but in 6,000-ish flight hours, including a couple hundred combat hours, over 150 trips into hurricane eyes, I’m here with barely a scratch and they’re gone.”

Ashland is a 1982 graduate of Clear Lake High School who earned his commission as an Air Force 2nd lieutenant in 1987, completing Officer Training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.  He accomplished Navigator training in Sacramento, Calif. and flys both B-52s and C-130s, logging combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  He retired in 2015.

“When I was asked to speak today, initially I was hesitant… but I decided to step up here for two reasons,” Ashland said.  “First, my mom asked me to speak, and no matter your age or lot in life, listening to your mom is usually the right move. But the primary reason was to honor five friends who never got to live the good life I have.”

Ashland’s first assignment was aboard B-52s sent to Andersen AFB in Guam.  “At that time, the Cold War, B-52s typically were on nuclear alert with crews billeted close to the aircraft ready to takeoff with minimum notice. Because of that commitment, there was not a lot of off-station missions. However, Andersen did not “sit alert” and we had trips to many other locations: Indonesia, Okinawa, Korea, Australia, to name a few. Guam also has a big Navy base, and we did a lot of work with the Navy.

He was later reassigned to Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Wash.  He was just getting into the routine when Iraq invaded Kuwait. 

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