Western District federal court honors its veterans with ceremony, and cake



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Though the majority of people participate in Veterans Day by expressing  admiration and gratitude to those who have served, to so many“veterans” are a faceless, abstract group.

This year, the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan created an event that demonstrated the flesh and blood reality of veterans among them.

So at 3:00 p.m. last Thursday, the day before Veterans Day was observed, Clerk of the Court Thomas Dorwin led a brief ceremony at the federal courthouse.

“Sometimes we think of Veterans Day as just a day off, a day when the courts are closed,” he said, speaking in brief introduction before a crowd of 40 or so court staff, including Judge Paul Maloney and Magistrate Judge Ray Kent. “But we don’t want to forget the reason for it.”

The commemoration was the brainchild of Dorwin and Judicial Assistant Jessica Wright, both of whom are veterans themselves (see below).

Dorwin introduced Magistrate Judge Phillip Green, who had to pull himself away from a trial to give remarks.

He briefly went over the history of Veterans Day, which started out as Armistice Day after World War I. The Armistice formally ended that war on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. In 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, expanding it to all veterans and not just those who served in the “war to end all wars.”

The distinction between Veterans Day and Memorial Day is that the former celebrates all those who served their country in the armed forces, whereas the latter commemorates those who died while in the service.

Judge Green went briefly through the wars since that armistice. He noted that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” referring to the dispute that exists about the origins of that quote. (It was widely misattributed to Thomas Jefferson, but in a more complex variation actually goes back to someone named John Philpot Curran.)

“Never in the history of the world has there been a nation as careful in trying to minimize death from military conflict,” he said, “both of our own soldiers and of civilians.”

Ultimately, Judge Green said, “I got more out of the military than it got out of me. It offered me great opportunities.”

The court’s Chief Judge, Robert J. Jonker, was in Seattle, but joined the gathering through the magic of technology to add his thoughts.

Chief Judge Jonker noted that there is a similarity between the oath of service members and the oath that federal court judges take, amounting to protecting and supporting the U.S. Constitution. He himself did not serve in the military, but he greatly respects those who did for their willingness to take the “unique risk,” and for their sacrifices.

He added, referring to the ceremony itself, “I hope this is a regular tradition at the court.”

After his remarks, Dorwin noted that it is common to have a cake cut with a weapon of some sort, and he pulled out a small sword. He added that the custom also calls for the oldest veteran present and the youngest to do the cutting. In this case, the lucky winners were Judge Green and Jessica Wright.

In a statement before the event, Dorwin said, “We have a number of current and former Judges and staff who were members of the armed forces at various points in their professional life.  I think it is appropriate that we take a moment to reflect on their service, and that of countless others who have made sacrifices, big and small, in the service of their nation.”

The following is a list of some of the judges who served over the years as well as some of the veterans who are currently on staff at the court, including several who helped out at the event:
District Judge Noel P. Fox: US Navy from 1944-46

District Judge Albert J. Engel: US Army from 1943-46

District Judge Wendall A. Miles: US Army, Air Corps from 1942-47

District Judge Douglas W. Hillman: US Army from 1942-45

District Judge Benjamin F. Gibson US Army 1948-50

District Judge Richard A. Enslen: US Air Force from 1951-54

District Judge David W. McKeague: US Army Reserve from 1969-75

District Judge R. Allen Edgar: US Army 1965-67

Magistrate Judge Stephen W. Karr: US Army from 1941-1946/Army Reserve 1946-1972

Magistrate Judge Hugh W. Brenneman, Jr.: US Army from 1971-74)

Magistrate Judge Phillip J. Green: US Navy from 1974-79 & US Army Reserves from 1979-80

Clerk of Court Thomas Dorwin: US Navy from 1980-86 &1993-2009, Reserves from 1986-89

Law Clerk Russ Ambrose: US Air Force from 1983-86

Network Administrator (IT) Ed Van Portfliet: US Army from 1983-86

Database Administrator (IT) Bill Simaz: US Air Force from1982-86

Probation Officer Mark Trowbridge: US Coast Guard from 2011-17

Judicial Assistant Jessica Wright: US Army Michigan National Guard 2001-09