The anniversary of 9/11 added a somber note to the South Sound’s otherwise light-hearted annual military appreciation day known as Foofaraw.
Foofaraw began in 1962 and has been a day of fun and feasting for service men and women. Sponsored by the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, Olympia Yacht Club and the Chehalis tribe, the day begins with a boat ride to Island Home, which is a private island owned by the yacht club. Once there, celebrants partake in a salmon bake, games and festivities.
A growing part of the tradition is the sendoff at the Port of Olympia. On Friday morning, first responders from around the area lined the dock with lights and sirens as the flotilla of 43 boats passed by a U.S. flag hanging from the port crane.
Chris Cheney, skipper of the 63-foot Just4us, is a former fighter pilot from the Vietnam era.
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“It makes me feel good to see members of the latest generation of the military honored,” Cheney said. “I want to pass it forward.”
About 225 members of the military boarded motor yachts in Olympia and arrived about an hour and a half later at the yacht club’s moorage near Harstine Island. As they entered the grounds of Island Home, they were greeted by the Foofaraw initiation: slurping a raw oyster, chased by a glass of beer.
Yeoman Sr. Tremeyne Randolf, of the USS John C. Stennis, is from Tennessee. The raw oyster ceremony caused him to make a face, but he said he enjoyed the outing on the much smaller craft.
Once past the oyster, members of all the services mingled, playing volleyball, chipping golf balls, building potato cars similar to Pinewood Derby racers, and enjoying baskets of clams while racks of salmon cooked over smokey alder. Teams signed up for tug of war, where the honor of the services is hotly contested.
“This is probably the best experience in my military life,” said Tech. Sgt. Lawrence “Brandon” Scott. Scott, a 15-year member of the military, is back at Joint Base Lewis-McChord after a year tour in Kuwait. Before that, he was in Washington, D.C. He likes this Washington better.
Scott was in the service for 9/11. “There’s a huge difference between the way we see the world pre-9/11 and the way we see it now. 9/11 put us in the forefront of everything. We have to be cognizant of everything,” he said.
The festivities paused for a raising and lowering of the flag, accompanied by a military bugler playing taps. After a moment of silence, someone shouted “Hoorah!” and amid shouts of “America” and “USA,” the party continued.
Don Secena, chairman of the Chehalis tribe, was there to oversee the cooking of the 200 pounds of king salmon. His secrets: lots of alder smoke, and salt and pepper. The event is a tradition in his family, Secena said, adding that his father and grandfather passed on the art of cooking the salmon.
Also a tradition are the 120 dozen homemade cookies, overseen by Dene Hartman. “Every one will be gone,” she said.
The volunteers who make it happen include the yacht club hosts and skippers who donate their time, boats and fuel. Chamber of Commerce members sponsor the event by paying for tickets for military members.
It’s all to honor the military, said David Schaffert, chamber executive director. “It’s always memorable to have conversations with people charged with big missions,” he said, noting that in the history of Foofaraw a number of commanders, including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., had attended.
But rank didn’t matter Friday. It was a day to let loose in the sun, and in the spirit of Foofaraw, make “much ado about nothing.”