Commentary: Memorial Day to me is all about remembrance
Memorial Day has always been a significant holiday in my family and the communities where I grew up. However, Memorial Day was not a day for the lake, fishing or other activities. Many instead attend a Memorial Day ceremony at one of the area cemeteries.
The communities of Leader and Poplar where I grew up are no different from most in northern Minnesota. The citizens are common folk, who are hard-working, self-sustaining, independent and freedom-loving individuals.
Many also stepped forward to serve their county in the military in time of war and in peace. In my lifetime, the communities where I grew up were fortunate as all the service men and women came home.
However, that has not always been the case.
Sitting near the flag poles in the front of the Poplar Cemetery is a lone granite monument about five feet high. On the front side of this monument are four names carved into the stone. They are local servicemen who did not return from World War II.
I did not know these men as I was born after World War II, but I have looked at their names -- Harold L. Collison, Lloyd E. Luiten, Alvin Francis DeWald and Robert Weibesick -- every time I visit this cemetery on Memorial Day.
Each of them has a different story, but all have the same ending. They died in service of their country protecting the communities of Poplar, Leader and all of America and all of the freedoms each of us enjoy every single day.
So for most of my 52 years, I have traveled to the end of a 1.5-mile, dead-end township gravel road off of state Highway 64 to attend the Memorial Day service at Poplar Cemetery. I often see community and family members, many who still live there, and others who have driven long distances within Minnesota or returned from out-of-state, just to be at the Poplar Cemetery on Memorial Day.
Growing up as a kid, I remember my father, a World War II Navy veteran; my two uncles, both World War II Army veterans; and other community members serving in the military honor guards on Memorial Day. Later, other family and community members, who had served in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and Iraq, have taken over duties of this honor guard.
The people of Leader and Poplar always tidy the gravesites of their loved ones, mow the grass and plant flowers. They place flags on the graves of the veterans. Someone raises the American flag on the flag pole to half-staff at sunrise and to then full staff at noon. Then they gather in the early afternoon -- often in a hot, muggy and mosquito-filled breeze among the whistling pines -- to listen to a Memorial Day program presented by community members and for the military honor guard to salute the dead. Then everyone listens in silence as a bugler plays Taps.
This year I cannot attend services at the Poplar or Motley Cemetery on Memorial Day as I often have. I will be at another Memorial Day service in George, Iowa, with my wife's Bartels family.
I will still remember those who have died and those who have served in America's military in time of war and in peace. They have enabled each of us the freedom on Memorial Day to do whatever we choose -- go to the lake to fish, go to a movie or attend a baseball game.
To me, wherever I am, Memorial Day is always a time to remember those who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country.
It is the least each of us can do.