by Steven Wright
Among the gravestones, flowers and flags, a small group began to gather inside Sacred Heart Cemetery Monday morning. Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion of Sauk Rapids lined up to march, share a few words and reflect on the importance of Memorial Day. Vietnam Veteran and VFW Chaplain Jerry Hovanes opened the ceremony with a prayer to the more than 100 people who attended.
Hovanes was glad to see the large number of people who braved the cold and rain to show up for the ceremony.
“It’s very important, the great turnout here from the community and the representation by both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion of Sauk Rapids to get people involved and remember what the day is meant to be – to remember the fallen veterans.” Hovanes said. “It means a lot to us old veterans.”
John Heintze, member of the local Legion and color guard, said he hoped everyone attending would reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day, which can get lost at times.
“It seems like the media these days think this is a day for retail sales and parties, but it isn’t,” he said. “It’s set aside to honor and protect our warriors and give them the credit that is coming to them, whether past or present.”
Minnesota State Sen. Michelle Fischbach was also on hand to share some heartfelt words.
“It matters we remember each and every one of those men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom,” Fischbach said. She read the names of the first casualties in each American war, as well as the names of local service members from Minnesota who died in combat.
“Each soldier had a name, had a family, had a life,” Fischbach continued. “And throughout history, brave men and women stood up for each and every one of us. These names are simply representative of all the men and women who gave their lives for our country and our freedom.”
The sacrifice American service members have made throughout history has been acknowledged and remembered since after the Civil War in 1868. Future president James Garfield spoke at the very first Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, and Fischbach made mention of Garfield’s speech while sharing one of his famous quotes:
“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke, but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made them immortal in their patriotism and their virtue.”
Tony Arend, the scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 9 in Sauk Rapids, spoke to the Newsleader about the importance of bringing the Scouts to the Memorial Day ceremony.
“For us it’s about respect to the community,” Arend said. “Boy Scouts is based on service and to have them out for this particular event is always a big deal and to give back and pay homage to those who have served.”
The Scouts, who orchestrated the raising of the flag before the ceremony, have had a chance to visit Camp Ripley this year and talk with service members and show their respect for members of the armed forces.
The ceremony included a reading of a poem written by Jerry Hovanes and a presentation of wreaths by the VFW, and concluded with a 21-gun salute and a playing of Taps.
“Although we don’t know every name of every soldier from every war who gave their life,” Fischbach said, “we can remember each of them as heroes. Each of these men and women who gave each of us a very special gift. They gave their lives for our lives, for our freedom, for our country.
“Today we remember, today we honor. Memorial day matters now and into the future. Always remember these heroes, they should not be forgotten.”