Local events celebrate Veterans Day

Noel Lyn Smith
Northern Edge Navajo Casino employee Claire King sings the National Anthem, Wednesday during a Veterans Day ceremony at  the casino in Fruitland.

FRUITLAND — Nine members of the Upper Fruitland Veterans Organization stood at attention in the entrance of Northern Edge Casino on Wednesday as part of the gaming establishment's Veterans Day ceremony.

Shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday, the veterans carried the flags into the casino before stopping in front of the food court.

As casino guests convened in the location, Claire King, who works in the casino's human resources department, introduced herself then sang the national anthem in English and Navajo.

“I feel very honored,” she said.

King has a number of veterans in her family and she mentioned her daughter, Cassandra King, is an Army private first class stationed at Fort Hood, Texas.

Upper Fruitland Color Guard post commander Alvis Kee places the United States Flag on a pedestal Wednesday during a ceremony at Northern Edge Navajo Casino in Fruitland.

After the posting of colors by the veterans, people approached them and expressed gratitude and shook hands.

Alvis Kee, commander of the veterans organization, said Veterans Day provides people time to honor veterans as well as remember those who did not return.

For Kee, the holiday serves as a day to count his blessings because he was reunited with his family after serving four years in the Marine Corps in the early 1970s.

Kee said his blessings include the safe return of his son, who served five years in Iraq, and his two brothers, who are veterans as well.

Steve Penhall, general manager of Northern Edge and Flowing Water casinos, said the ceremony was conducted to celebrate veterans as well as provide casino guests the opportunity to show their appreciation.

“They did so much to make sure we’ll be here,” Penhall said.

Ronda Willie, left, and Cecelia Kee hug members of the Upper Fruitland Color Guard, Wednesday after a Veterans Day ceremony at Northern Edge Navajo Casino in Fruitland.

The ceremony at the casino was one of many local events to commemorate the holiday.

Fifteen members of Navajo Preparatory School Naat’áanii Youth Council helped serve meals to veterans and family members during the annual Giving Thanks for Our Veterans Dinner at the Farmington Indian Center.

Myra Newman, the center’s division manager, said food was available to feed 400 people. Meals consisted of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, yams, olives, bread and cupcakes.

At right, Kim Sandoval hands out food  Wednesday during a Veterans Day lunch event at the Farmington Indian Center.

Veterans also received red felt poppy pins, which were sewn by third, fourth and fifth graders in the 21st Century Program at Apache and Bluffview elementary schools in Farmington.

Navajo Prep sophomore Catelin Dee was among those helping in the kitchen.

Dee said she volunteered because it was a way to show her appreciation and to acknowledge veterans, especially the four in her family, “Knowing that they served our country and knowing they are still here with us.”

Dan Y. and Judy Begay traveled from their home in Shiprock to attend the dinner.

Dan Y. Begay is an Army veteran who was drafted during the Vietnam era and was stationed in the United States.

He explained that his stateside placement was based on his job assignment as a military policeman and because of his experience in social work.

“It’s the appreciation of being here,” Begay said about what the holiday means to him.

“I know that others deployed ... made more sacrifices but I was lucky I served stateside. I know a lot of them who gone there (Vietnam) and some of the things they are experiencing,” he said.

Members of the Upper Fruitland Color Guard participate in a presentation of colors ceremony Wednesday at Northern Edge Navajo Casino in Fruitland.

This understanding was developed as Begay counseled veterans through the years and by his service with the Native American Church.

Judy Begay said her husband woke up Wednesday and hung a large American flag at their home.

“I appreciate him every day. Sometimes he had flashbacks but through faith, he overcame those issues,” Judy said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.