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Memorial Day: A time to remember

It is Memorial Day weekend in America. To many it is the first major weekend of summer to go up north to the cabin by the lake or some other destination.

In my family, it has always been something else -- a time for remembrance and honor.

I never served in the military. The closest I got was being among the last group of young men registering for the draft in December 1974. We didn't have any draft lottery worries as the draft had ended several years earlier, but you still had to register.

Growing up in the late '60s and early '70s, patriotism and honoring those who served our country wasn't always a popular thing to do. Newspapers and television were filled with reports of anti-military demonstrations, stop the draft and other protests of the time.

Yet even during those turbulent times in America, the north central Minnesota communities of Poplar and Leader where I grew up always gathered at the local cemetery for a Memorial Day service.

Those communities will gather again Monday for Memorial Day at the Poplar Community Cemetery, like many in Minnesota, to honor those who have served our country.

As a young boy, I watched as the Tri-County Post 124 American Legion honor guard marched in smartly in the hot afternoon sun. Sometimes the heat made them waver a bit, but the honor guard always completed their assignments.

Things always seemed to stand still as the speaker spoke, songs were sung, the commanding officer marched his troops, the honor guard saluted the dead and young children ran to pick up the empty rifle shells.

As long as I can remember, my relatives continued serving their country by participating in the honor guard.

My father Budd Boldan, a Navy vet, was in the American Legion honor guard until his death in 1975. My uncles, Gordon and George Johnson, both U.S. Army veterans and also brothers, were also in the honor guard for decades.

Those WWII generation veterans have now passed the honor guard responsibility to younger generations. There are Korean and Vietnam veterans. And now there are others, even young women who served in 1990s.

My uncles, Gord and George, continued serving on Memorial Day in other ways after withdrawing from the honor guard. Uncle Gord served as Memorial Day master of ceremonies at the local cemeteries for many years. For just as long, Uncle George always made sure the American flag was raised on Memorial Day and that a flag was placed on each veteran's grave at the Poplar and Swan Valley cemeteries.

It will be a different ceremony on Memorial Day at Poplar Cemetery this year. Many of the "Greatest Generation" of WWII are now coming to the end of their lives.

My uncles will miss Memorial Day Monday for the first time since WWII. Uncle Gord died June 9 shortly after his last Memorial Day appearance. George died Tuesday and his funeral was Friday. They are now both buried at the Poplar cemetery as is my father.

When I was growing up, I thought these guys would live forever, after all they had fought and lived through WWII. Monday will be a special day of remembrance for me.

There are many veterans in my family.

In my father's family, my grandfather Earl Boldan served in the Army in WWI. My uncle Hal Keilty, like my father, served in the Navy in WWII, and was a career Navy man. My great uncle Peter Parson served in the Union Army and was killed in action at the Battle of Pleasant Hill in Louisiana on April 9m 1864.

In my mother's family, my great-grandfather George Matthews served with the Army's 32nd Iowa Infantry in the Civil War. Another great grandfather, William DeLaittre, first served in 1856 in the Army at Ft. Snelling and later with the Army's 7th Maine during the Civil War. My great-great-great grandfather George Mathews served in the British Army before immigrating to America. Other ancestors served in the U.S. military or the militia in the Revolutionary War, King Phillips War and other conflicts back to the Pilgrims.

I encourage readers to look to their family's past to find ancestors who served.

Memorial Day's original purpose is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service.

This year this is especially true. For after Sept. 11, we have all learned to value patriotism and sacrifice a little more.

There are hundreds of police, firemen and emergency workers who died Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center. There are thousands of citizens who died as well there in New York and at the Pentagon in Washington. There were the brave Americans on United Flight 93 who rebelled against the Sept. 11 hijackers. Among them was Thomas Burnett Jr., a Minnesota native, who led the passenger rebellion which prevented the airliner from crashing into the White House. Instead, the plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field. His remains, just recently identified, were buried Friday at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery.

There are many service men and women who are serving in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and around the world.

Finally, there are the Americans who have lost their lives in the current war on terrorism. They have made the ultimate sacrifice, so we all have, as Paul McCartney's Freedom song says, "the right to live in freedom."

In our country's history, there have been more than 848,000 Americans killed in the service of their country.

Today, more than any time in our history, it is important that we remember the true purpose of Memorial Day.

Attend the Memorial Day service in your community or join the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time Monday and observe a moment of silence. To find out more about this, go to the Web site:

To the men and women who have given their life for the United States, we remember.

To those who are still serving their country either in the Armed Forces, in military honor guards or other ways, we say thank you

Kelly Boldan is the editor of the West Central Tribune.

Kelly Boldan

Kelly Boldan has been the editor of the West Central Tribune of Willmar, since joining the newspaper in October 2001. He has previously worked as the editor at the Bemidji Pioneer, also part of Forum Communications Co., and other daily newspapers, online Web sites, and weekly agriculture newspapers in Wisconsin, Texas and Minnesota. You can follow via Twitter at @KellyBoldanWCT or read about the Tribune's newsroom blog at: or the Tribune's blog at:

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