Patriots pull out stops for Ranger

"We were up to our kneecaps in generals," said event organizer Jerri Ghiglieri
by: Vern Uyetake, Staff Sgt. Daniel Dagett, right,  whose 41st  unit  out of LaGrande is soon to be deployed, salutes the flag while the national anthem is played. Honored guest Col. Ken Reusser, left and his wife Trudy stand at attention.

It was a great night for heroes, stars and patriots at the gala benefit for the U.S.S. Ranger held last Thursday.

The 82nd Brigade Armory in Lake Oswego was filled to capacity with people coming together with one goal in mind: Bringing the Ranger to Portland.

'I don't think this armory has ever been so full,' said event organizer Jerri Ghiglieri.

Ghiglieri filled it with a wonderful group of honored guests, such as some of this nation's greatest military heroes - Kenneth Reusser, the most decorated living Marine; legendary Tuskegee airman Bill Holloman; Col. Joe Jackson, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Holloman got off the best line of the evening: 'When we got to Europe in 1945, Hitler heard we were there and he quit.'

There were also lots of current service personnel on hand, including many of high rank.

'We were up to our kneecaps in generals,' Ghiglieri said.

There were plenty of athletic heroes, too, such as Portland Trail Blazer alumnae Bobby Gross, Dale Schleuter, Michael Harper and legendary announcer Bill Schonely; football great Jon Arnett and former Major League pitcher Tom Gorman.

Everything was presented with patriotic flare, with anthems such as God Bless America, God Bless the USA, and, of course, the national anthem, plus some jazzed-up patriotic songs from the latter day Andrews Sisters, the Two Sister Trio.

Ghiglieri knew she had really hit a patriotic nerve when she was pulled out on the floor by a Navy Seal to dance the boogie-woogie.

'Navy Seals don't take 'no' for an answer,' Ghiglieri said.

The event did just what the U.S.S. Ranger Foundation had hoped - it boosted the profile of the effort to bring the super carrier to Portland to become a multi-use facility that could provide the city a much-needed economic boost.

'We've been working hard for two and a half years,' said Capt. Tim Myers, executive director of the foundation. 'Things are changing in Portland. We're seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.'

Foundation president Ray Kutch asked, 'Can Jerri really pull this off?'

Ghiglieri is pulling as hard as she can. The Port of Portland Authority, which has the final say on whether the Ranger comes to town, has yet to show a glimmer of enthusiasm about the project. But the Lake Oswego woman's optimism remains unshakeable.

'We're not just a special interest group,' Ghiglieri said. 'Having the Ranger here will be for the greater good.

'The Ranger is the golden goose and we can't let it get away. Because it's going to lay lots of golden eggs.'

Before the golden future arrives, Ghiglieri can afford to bask in the glow from the gala.

'People who attended were overwhelmed,' she said. 'They were tearful, excited and ready to jump onboard and be part of the team. Afterward, there were so many calls at our office and for me.

'Just having people in the community come to this was a real eye-opener. It was a very moving experience. It really served its purpose.'

With one big party under her belt, Ghiglieri is already looking forward to another one: Right on the massive decks of the U.S.S. Ranger.

'Our next gala will be on that ship,' she said. 'It's as big as three football fields.'

That will certainly be enough room for a patriotic boogie-woogie that will top them all.