American Legion seeks volunteers to place more than 1,300 flags at veterans’ graves in Exeter
By Nancy Vigran
Reporting for The Sun-Gazette
EXETER – Vietnam-era Veteran Stan Dillon has been chosen as the keynote speaker for this year’s American Legion Memorial Day ceremony. Dillon looks to honor those who sacrificed their lives for their country, no matter what time, or during what war.
He looks to share some lesser-known facts such as Congress’ National Moment of Remembrance Act, passed in 2000, asking people to stop and pause for a moment at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day remembering those who gave their lives.
Dillon, an Exeter High School graduate, was drafted into the military during the Vietnam War. He had recently graduated from College of the Sequoias and was looking forward to a baseball scholarship at UC Davis.
Upon receiving his draft notice, he gave up the scholarship.
“No point hanging on to a scholarship, if you’re going to die,” he said.
A thought held by many during that period. If you were drafted and ordered to Vietnam, you most likely would not come home alive, he said. It was different then, there was a draft and you didn’t have a choice.
“You’d see the pictures every night on TV,” he said.
The images they portrayed were of little hope for survival. More than 58,000 American lives were lost in the conflict, most of them between 18 and 25, Dillon noted. The war lasted almost 20 years. The deadliest years were during the end of the 1960s, right before Dillon was drafted. In one week, February 11–17, 1968 during the Tet Offensive, 543 Americans were killed in action, and 2,547 were wounded.
Dillon, however, was sent to Heilbronn, Germany, where he served as an Artillery Survey Specialist with the 3/84th Field Artillery, Pershing Nuclear Missile Battalion. His older brother, John, was sent to Vietnam, yet did come home alive. Other Exeter High grads were not as fortunate.
In remembrance of eight Exeterians who served during the war and lost their lives, the Dillon brothers were two of the instigators for Exeter’s Vietnam Battlefield Cross Memorial in Joyner Park at the intersection of Rocky Hill Drive, C Street, and Pine Street. The memorial honors Joe Lanell Meek, Tim Ewing, Fred Hitson, Eugene Petty, Phillip Ogas, Larry Moore, Daniel Goldsmith, and Terry Ketter, fondly known as the Gang of Eight.
“There’s been very few years [in the U.S. history], we haven’t been at war with somebody,” he said. “It comes with being a democracy.”
Dillon, now a retired teacher, last spoke at the Memorial Day ceremony in 2013. At that time he spoke specifically of the Vietnam War. This year he wants everyone to recognize that military service may be voluntary, but when you get the call, you serve.
The American Legion Post 94 ceremonies will begin at the Exeter Cemetery at 8 a.m., Monday, May 27. Anyone is welcome to attend. Veterans buried in the cemetery date back to the Civil War with some as recent as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of the approximate 1,300 buried in Exeter will be honored with flags and small crosses during that weekend.