Memorial Day began with pouring rain, but local veterans groups and their association members soldiered on in the wet weather, driving from one cemetery to the next, remembering those who gave their lives for their country.
The Cloquet Combined Honor Guard finished its tour at Veterans Park, where a crowd of close to 75 people gathered in spite of the weather, to pay tribute.
The rain seemed befitting of the somber occasion.
Minnesota Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Troy Smith began by noting that it is often wrongly said that we “celebrate” Memorial Day.
“We know it as an observance, in memoriam, for those who left our community and never came home,” Smith said. “We observe not just their loss, but the mothers and fathers, wives, husbands and especially the children, who were forced to bear such a heavy burden as to lose a loved one on foreign shores.”
Members of the Honor Guard stood with flags and rifles on the Veterans Plaza, paved with bricks bearing the names of many local soldiers who served in times of war and peace. Others stood with umbrellas or raincoats in the grass, under the pergola. Even more people stood inside the shelter, in a program punctuated by patriotic music played by the Cloquet Community Band.
Speaker Terry Twomey asked that people take an extra moment to remember the men and women buried in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“They exemplify all that is good and courageous in America,” he said.
Members and presidents of the local veterans organizations carried red, white and blue wreaths out to the flagpole, on which both a black POW MIA flag fluttered under the American stars and stripes.
Longtime VFW auxiliary member/officer Velda Beck introduced the three families who were donating flags — in honor of loved ones — to be flown at the park.
The family of Gordon Nelson came forward, then Kenneth Johnson’s son, Duane, stepped forth in memory of his father. Annette Johnson dedicated a third flag in memory of her father, Ambrose Filipiak.
Linda Erickson of the American Legion and the VFW’s Tony Jurek — former prisoner of war in Korea and “American hero” — read a list of those who had died over the past year.
Finally, Korean War veteran Edward Janke played “Taps” as the program came to a close, the rain still threatening those gathered there.
Smith ended his speech the way he began it, by commenting on what Memorial Day means to some, and what he believes it stands for.
“It is also said that today is to thank those who served for their service, to which I say it is not,” he said. “Today is a day we observe far beyond those who answered the call to serve. Today we stand tall, no matter the weather, to give our tribute to those who paid that ultimate sacrifice, who give 100 percent in the name of freedom to their last fateful breath. …”