Never ever forget: Memorial Day service helps keep a promise
Honoring the sacrifices of military men and women is a very personal responsibility for Maj. Gen. David Elicerio, commander of the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" division of the National Guard.
He does it to keep a promise.
Elicerio explained his promise to a crowd assembled for a Memorial Day observance Monday morning under cloudy skies in Bay Point Park.
Since the 9/11 tragedy, he said, nearly 6,700 American troops have lost their lives in combat zones. Of that total, 97 were from Minnesota, and "18 served with me in the Minnesota National Guard."
As their commanding officer, he had the difficult task of writing to their families. Elicerio assured them that their sons and daughters will be remembered for their sacrifices.
"I am here today to fulfill that promise never to forget," he said.
Those men and women were volunteers who went to war to serve and protect, but they did not return.
"It's hard when someone is killed when they are just beginning their lives," he reminded the crowd. "Their lives were ended by people who wanted to take away our freedom."
Flags across the country were at half-staff from dawn until noon Monday in remembrance of men and women who have died serving their country throughout its history.
It's been just a month since the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon, Elicerio recalled. As he watched, he said, "I was filled with horror and solemn pride" as he saw soldiers and first responders reacting to the explosions.
"They ran toward the danger, to help," he said. That's what service men and women are doing around the world --defending and protecting freedom.
Elicerio, who currently is headquartered in Rosemount, Minn., has served around the world -- including the National Guard post in Red Wing. Though it's been 20 years since he last wore a uniform in Red Wing, he said, "I recall the soldiers of this town."
The general commended the many who gathered on a cold holiday morning to commemorate all who sacrificed for their country.
"Many think of this as the first day of the summer season, a long holiday weekend," Elicerio said. "It's the first day of the 101 critical days of summer."
But Memorial Day must be more than that.
"It is vital to the fiber of our nation to pause and reflect," he said, pointing out that the families, friends, neighbors and communities of those who died in service to country also are affected by the loss.
"Help make Memorial Day a little more meaningful," he said, challenging the crowd to consider these small measures:
Fly the flag.
Observe the national minute of remembrance.
Pause and pray.
Teach young people to place a hand over the heart when the colors are posted or the National Anthem is performed.
Donate to a service organization.
Wear the Buddy Poppy.
Finally, he said, "Next year, invite a friend or neighbor to come with you" to the Memorial Day ceremony. The Memorial Day Committee led by Daryl Duden worked hard to present a program that will "help us remember to never forget. ...
"It's reassuring to me to know that you and so many others value their sacrifice," he said.
Also speaking briefly, Red Wing City Council Vice President Ralph Rauterkus cited Red Wing's long history of honoring service men and women.
In the 1920s, he said, the Soldiers Memorial Association was established and, working with other local groups, established a Soldiers Memorial on Sorin's Bluff.
Today that Memorial Park is being revitalized as a place where soldiers again can reflect and find peace, where families can gather.
Rauterkus invited everyone to come to Memorial Park on Saturday for a celebration of the park's restoration as a "reinvigorated memorial to soldiers of all wars."
Master of Ceremonies Bill Christianson also noted that the 2nd Minnesota Battery, a Civil War re-enactment group that provided an artillery salute at the conclusion of the program, is traveling this summer to join 10,000 other re-enactors to observe the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
A Red Wing man, Col. William Colvill, led the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which is credited with saving the day for the Union.
The Memorial Day program also included music by the Red Wing High School Ovation choir, directed by Mikkel Gardner, and the high school Concert Band, directed by Dan Marrs. Performing "Taps" were students Yue Pheng Xiong and Claire Larson.
Jerome Weigenant, U.S. Navy veteran, was honorary grand marshal, and Ronda Luna, U.S. Navy, was the honored woman veteran. Karen Hemenway led the floral tribute by descendants of Spanish American and Civil War veterans.
Tanya Graves of the 2nd Minnesota read Logan's Proclamation which established the Memorial Day observance back in 1868. The Gettysburg Address, which has been recited for many years by Navy veteran Allan Poole, was presented by Sharon Marty, daughter of a Marine Corps veteran. Poole's name was added this year to the list of Departed Comrades.