Remembering those who served
By RANDY GONZALES
Taft Yates had his speech written.
Yates, a former Army Ranger and Ellis Police Chief, was chosen to speak at Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at the Hays American Legion, 1305 Canterbury.
On May 13, however, Yates had to do a re-write upon learning a good friend he had known since his Ranger days had died as a result of wounds suffered while deployed in Afghanistan.
Yates had known Army Command Sgt. Maj. Marty Barreras since 1989, when Yates was Barreras' platoon sergeant during the invasion of Panama.
"He was a quiet professional, always one I could count on to get things done," Yates said of Barrera, 49, who was in his last tour of Afghanistan. "He was a hard charger, good leader, and a great Ranger buddy."
Yates, who also was in the invasion of Grenada in 1983, said there were lessons to be learned from his experiences.
"You learned going into war isn't just about killing people," he said. "There's a lot of humanity ... taking care of the kids and the innocent people out there. That's a big thing."
Yates, who will be 57 on July 4, had to do one final re-write of his speech Sunday night. He had helped put flags on veterans' graves earlier that day.
"There were very few of us out there," Yates said. "It seems as though we're getting away from what this day is all about."
Yates implored those assembled to keep the tradition of Memorial Day alive to the younger generation, saying it's more than just a three-day weekend.
"It's too easy to forget," he said. "Every time we forget, later in life we pay with hard-earned lessons that we already had been taught."
Michael Dreiling, Victoria, agreed with Yates. Dreiling, 66, now retired, remembered while working as a custodian at Fort Hays State University his student-workers would ask him about the time he served in Vietnam.
"They would ask me, "What was Vietnam like? We only had three or four pages in our history books,' " Dreiling said.
Dreiling said his time in Vietnam as a combat engineer in the Army was "Hell. Just one word. Hell."
Then he laughed.
"I'd go through it again."