NEW: COMMANDER REFLECTS ON THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Shirlene Simonsen read the names of 358 deceased soldiers from the Menno area; veterans saluted the flag as the Menno High School band played the national anthem; and Casey Hanson, commander for the South Dakota Sons of the American Legion, reminded about 200 people why they were gathering as the larger Menno community observed another Memorial Day Monday morning, May 30.
“Many people think Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer, or is just another long weekend to enjoy,” Hanson told those assembled in the city/school auditorium. “But I ask everyone here to deeply think about the actual reason why we get to enjoy ‘the beginning of summer’ or ‘just another long weekend.’ It is because men and women believed in something so greatly they were willing and paid the ultimate price for us. It cost them their lives. Men and women died for us to ensure our rights to our freedoms, so today we pause and remember those that have given everything just so you and I can have something.”
The price the soldiers paid was high, Hanson noted.
“Imagine you’re 23 years old,” he said. “You’re loaded on a Higgins boat and the soldier next to you keeps on throwing up due to the choppy seas and crappy weather. Before you loaded, your commanding officer told everyone to ‘prepare for the worst, but do your best.’ When landfall starts to appear, the waters are tainted red with blood and there are bodies floating everywhere you look. Amongst the grenades and gunfire, you realize once that ramp door drops, your odds of today being your last day just greatly increased. But you knew what had to be done.
“Imagine you’re 18-19 years old and a senior in high school. You have no intentions of joining the armed forces, but the government has different plans for you. Instead of taking a fun senior trip with your classmates, you are dropped off in a jungle a million miles from home with men you barely know. Because of your size, you’re handed a flashlight and pistol and told to crawl into the tiniest of spaces and flush out or kill the enemy. You know that when you descend into the hole, you may never see daylight again. But you knew what had to be done.
“Imagine being 30 years old. You had just gotten married last year with a baby on the way. You’re stationed in a place called the Devil’s Sandbox. You go out on patrol every day, but you can’t tell the good locals from the bad ones, so every single sense of yours is heightened and you are on alert. You know the odds are increased of your vehicle hitting an IED that was plated earlier, causing you to never see your newlywed spouse again or that newborn baby at all. But you knew what had to be done.”
Hanson said situations like those are the reality for those who served in the armed forces and represent the ultimate sacrifice they make — a sacrifice that was being remembered on Monday.
Hanson reminded those attending the service — moved from the city cemetery to the city/school auditorium because of inclement weather — that Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and established by a presidential decree on May 5, 1868. The first observance was held on May 30 of that year, when the graves at Arlington National Cemetery were decorated with flowers and flags.
And he noted that he had the honor of traveling to Washington, D.C. on Feb. 27 to take part in three wreath-laying ceremonies at the World War II Memorial, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Vietnam Memorial.
“The Vietnam Wall had a personal effect, as my father is a Vietnam-era veteran,” Hanson said. “Seeing the 58,000 names etched into the cold, granite sent chills through my body and literally took my breath away.”
He said he couldn’t help but think about all those who never returned home, and how that debt can never be repaid.
“The only thing we can do is to make sure there is not a day that goes by that their service and sacrifice are forgotten,” Hanson said. “We must ensure that their legacies will always be remembered.
“George S. Patton said, ‘It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.’”
Monday’s Memorial Day service was organized by the Rames-Bender Post 152 of the American Legion and officiated by its commander, Bob Rennolet, who used the observance to announce the establishment of a local chapter of the Sons of the American Legion.
The program also included music by Tom Ulmer and Dale Weiss, a rifle salute honoring the dead and the playing of Taps. A meal fundraiser for the Menno band followed the 45-minute service.
Members of the Rames-Bender Post 152 of the American Legion stand during the opening of the May 30 Memorial Day program. In addition to carrying the flags, the men offered a rifle salute in honor of the dead.