All-Day Gala Set To Honor Veterans

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If it were a movie, it would be considered an epic production.

Payson's Veterans Day celebration, which will unfold Saturday, involves no less than 15 airplanes, one helicopter, a dozen military vehicles, more than 100 people, and required five local veteran boosters Lee and Joe Pretsch, Sherman Alston, Joe Tunno and Bill Sahno to produce.

All with a budget of zero.

And like all megaproductions, this one came with its share of splitting headaches.

"The hardest thing to organize, by far has been getting the Show Low National Guard into Green Valley Park with all their men and equipment for the morning show," said Lee Pretsch, who also chairs the Payson Americans with Disabilities Committee and the Payson Flag Committee.

"That is still a big concern," she said. "There will be Humvees, for example, and they are very heavy. Where are we going to put them in the park, since the ground is so soft from all the rain? We don't want to damage anything, but we want to get them in there."

She's certain, however, that the headaches will pay off, especially if her dreams for the event come true.

"What I'd most like to see is the auditorium filled to capacity," she said, "like it was last year, for the afternoon show."

But then Pretsch corrects herself. What she'd really most like to see, she said, is that Payson remembers, admires and cherishes its military veterans.

"We must never forget what these men and women have done for us to guarantee the freedom that we enjoy today," she said. "I have two sons and a husband who have given 57 years to the military, and I am so grateful that their names will not have to be on the Veterans Memorial we're building in Green Valley Park.

"That's why I want to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We must never forget them."

The power and meaning of such remembrance is illustrated in a story Pretsch tells, which began when one of her sons was an Apache helicopter pilot stationed in the Middle East, participating in Operation Desert Storm.

Her husband, Joe, took a king-sized bed sheet, tore it into three pieces, and painted on the words, "Payson, a town that cares."

The banner was draped across the front of Bashas' supermarket for about three months. "But when it was getting close to Christmas," Pretsch said, "we took it down. People had written over 500 signatures and good wishes and scriptures on it, for our son and all the other men involved in Desert Storm, so we sent it to our son.

"Today, I have a photograph of his company in Saudi Arabia, standing in front of this banner that says, 'Payson, a town that cares.'

"Well, about two years ago, a letter came to the Roundup from a fellow who said he was in the military, in Desert Storm. At the end of a flight from Atlanta to Phoenix, as the plane was descending, he said, he looked down and saw this little town. And then he noticed this airstrip with the name 'Payson' on it, and a chill went through his body.

"His first thought was, 'Payson, a town that cares.'"

Free transportation to and from Payson's Veterans Day celebration can be arranged by calling Lee Pretsch at 474-2170 ... because, she said, "We want everyone who wants to be there to be there.

The morning program for the day-long event will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 11 at Green Valley Park and will include the dedication of Payson's Veterans Memorial site, fly-overs by vintage war planes, a color guard presentation and music.

The afternoon program will begin at 4 p.m. at the Payson High School auditorium and will include music, a musical-comedy salute to USO shows titled, "Thanks for the Memories," and special recognition to the military services and Gold Star Mothers.

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