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Juanita Pohl Center welcomes veterans with free breakfast

Service heroes speak; moment of silence held for dead, MIA


TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Veterans, friends and family enjoyed a recognition breakfast on Monday at Tualatin's Juanita Pohl Center.This story has been updated from its original version.

The Tualatin community saluted its service heroes Monday morning during the city's annual veterans recognition breakfast at the Juanita Pohl Center.

The center said it welcomed about 145 guests, most of them military veterans and their family members, for the event. A diverse lineup of speakers, including a rescue helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam, a military police officer who served in Iraq, and an airborne sniper who served in Afghanistan, reflected on their time in the service and shared their experiences.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Norb Murray talks about his time as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam at Tualatin's Juanita Pohl Center on Monday.U.S. Navy veteran Jerry Larsen spent most of his 10 minutes of speaking time giving an overview of Operation Starlite, the 1965 battle often considered to mark the beginning of full-scale U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. But he also touched on a difficult inflection point in his life as a naval officer.

“My sacrifice was — as so many of us have — was leaving a family behind for that period of time, wondering if you're going to come back,” Larsen said, to murmurs of understanding from the audience. “I did, and I'm here today, and I'm thankful for that — and I'm thankful for all of the rest of you that served.”

Not everyone had to leave their families behind when they went to war.

Kimberly Preli, a U.S. Army MP, volunteered for deployment to Iraq twice to accompany her now-husband, whom she met in basic training. She was asked to speak on Monday about the unique nature of a woman's experience in the military.

“There isn't just a woman's experience or a man's experience,” she said. “It's my experience.”

Preli said she achieved things that many men, including her own grandfather, never expected she could. In one instance, she said, she passed a weapons specialist course that no woman had completed before — and she passed it with flying colors.

“Some people might have joked a little bit because I was a female,” she said. “To me, it didn't matter whether I was a female. It mattered how I portrayed myself.”

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Martin Murrell plays 'The Star Spangled Banner' at Tualatin's veterans recognition breakfast on Monday.For some, the pull to service is magnetic.

Joel Dulashanti was in high school on Sept. 11, 2001, and he never expected then he would end up fighting in the ensuing war in Afghanistan, he told the audience. He eventually became a sniper in the 82nd Airborne Division and deployed to a forward operating base in Afghanistan.

During one firefight with a wanted al-Qaeda leader, Dulashanti was shot four times. His leg had to be amputated and he spent time recuperating at Walter Reed Military Hospital, finishing his undergraduate degree while he was there.

“I figured, 'Hey. Why not stay in the military?'” he recalled. “I had nothing else going on.”

Dulashanti reenlisted and became an airborne instructor. The first time he parachuted out of an airplane with his prosthetic leg, he said he wondered, “What am I doing?” — but he made it, and he continued to serve as an instructor for three years, never suffering an injury over many more paradrops.

“A lot of the amputees, a lot of us that stayed in the military, it was to do something … to blaze a trail for the rest of the amputees that could quite possibly follow us,” he said.

Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden credited Dulashanti, who came to the breakfast with his wife and infant daughter, with inspiring the City Council to declare Tualatin to be a Purple Heart City earlier this fall. In its proclamation, the council encouraged residents and businesses to honor and support wounded members of the military and veterans.

Breakfast was free for all veterans Monday morning. Sausage, eggs, potatoes and other foods were served cafeteria-style.

In honor of those who weren't able to make it — the deceased and the missing in action — one table and place setting at the front of the room was left empty, and a moment of silence was called to acknowledge them.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with an official head count from the Juanita Pohl Center, as well as with photos from the event.