by Dennis Dalman
The weather was chilly, the wind was brisk, but the band played on at the Memorial Day service May 27 in Sartell’s Veterans Park.
Audience members, speakers and musicians stoically braved the nippy morning weather to honor all those who served the cause of freedom throughout the nation’s history. Overcast skies looked like rain was imminent, but the rain held off throughout the hour-long ceremony.
The American Legion Post 277 of Sartell posted the colors at the park’s veterans’ monument, the Sartell Community Band performed the “National Anthem” at the start of the event. Sartell Mayor Joe Perske and Flip Mastey, Post 277 commander, welcomed the audience, who filled the bleachers and sat or stood on the grass. The Rev. Tim Baltes, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church, gave the invocation; and the Sartell Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, along with all present, recited the “Pledge of Allegiance.”
Guest speakers also included American Legion member Rollie Weis, State Rep. Tim O’Driscoll and U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann.
Weis, the oldest member of the American Legion of Sartell, told the story of how he and his brother, Phillip, both served during World War II – he as a sailor in the Pacific theater, his brother as a U.S. Army soldier in northern Europe during the Battle of the Bulge. Phillip was missing in action, and his parents, who lived in Sartell, had no idea for months where Phillip or Rollie were located or if they were even alive. Ten months later, a couple walking in the woods in Luxembourg, a tiny country between France and Germany, found the remains of a soldier. He was identified by an address of his parents he had been carrying. Meantime, Rollie had returned safe and sound to Sartell after the war from the battles in the Pacific.
Many years later, Rollie and his wife Janette opened a letter addressed to Rollie’s parents, who had passed on years before. The letter was from a Luxembourg man, named Fernand Weis (no relation to Rollie), who had found Phillip’s dog tags in the woods. Fernand, a World War II buff, and a friend were using a metal detector to look for artifacts from the Battle of the Bulge. Since then, Fernand and Rollie have exchanged visits, and Rollie was able to visit Phillip’s grave in the American cemetery in Luxembourg.
Bachmann said the Founding Fathers of 1776 gave America its Constitution, but it’s been veterans who have secured the freedoms mentioned in the constitution for the United States through so many wars, she added.
“Not one of us would be here today without the sacrifices of our veterans,” she told the audience.
Bachmann said she is especially appreciative of veterans because service to country is very much part of her family. Her great-grandfather served in the Civil War, on the Union side; her father served in the U.S. Air Force; a stepfather and stepbrother also served in the military.
Bachmann urged the audience to remember the estimated 83,000 Americans who are listed as missing in action or prisoners of war in foreign lands. She said she has introduced legislation that would expedite a continued search for those veterans who are not accounted for. She also said she vows never to forget the needs of returning veterans – whether those needs are health care, housing or jobs.
“We are here for you,” she said. “God bless you, and God bless everyone who came here for this wonderful day today.”
Bachmann also memorialized the tragic explosion of the Verso paper mill in Sartell, which exploded and caught fire right after last year’s Memorial Day celebration, killing one employee, Jon Maus of Albany.
“It is a memory we share,” she said. “Love, honor and compassion will go on.”
O’Driscoll told the story of a Kansas Roman Catholic priest, Emil Kapaun, who served in World War II as an army chaplain and who later re-enlisted to serve in the Korean War. Time and again, Kapaun showed extraordinary courage in protecting soldiers from harm and in seeing to their needs. As a chaplain, he was not allowed to carry a firearm and yet risked his life often to protect others, at risk of imminent death to himself. Kapaun would perform many “makeshift” Masses, using the hood of his jeep as his “altar.”
In November 1950, Kapaun was captured and placed in a prison camp in North Korea. In the camp, he also risked his life to help others, refusing his own meager food rations so others could have a bit more to eat.
Kapaun fell ill with dysentery, pneumonia and a blood clot in his leg. The North Koreans placed him in a hospital, but his ailments were not treated. He died of pneumonia on May 23, 1951 and was buried in a mass grave near the Yalu River.
Kapaun was honored with many medals for valor. Last month, he was awarded with the nation’s highest award by President Barack Obama – the Medal of Honor. The Catholic Church has also named him as a “Servant of God,” which is the first step of the long process toward possible designation as a saint.
Joe Linneman, a Scottish-style bagpiper, was a new addition to the Veterans Park Memorial Day ceremony this time. Linneman played versions of “Amazing Grace” and a tune from Anton Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.”
Other highlights of the ceremony included a reading of the poem “Flanders Field,” Taps played by Dale and Karl Schleppenbach and placing of flags along the walkway as the Sartell Community Band played the wistful, haunting melody entitled “Ashokan Farewell.”