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Veterans honored during Memorial Day service
new deh memorial day main pic
Katherina Smades, American Legion Post 180 commander, gives here address during the 2015 Memorial Day service at Great Bend Municipal Cemetery Monday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

 According to information from the American Legion, the first Memorial Day was not called Memorial Day. 

It is believed to have been celebrated with a parade of freed slaves and Union soldiers marching through Charleston, South Carolina in 1865.

Waterloo, New York, is considered the official birthplace of Memorial Day because after it was observed there on May 5, 1866, General John Murray and General John A. Logan called on all communities to honor the war dead every year.

Logan had been impressed with how the South had honored the fallen Confederate soldiers for years.

In 1868, Logan, the head of the prominent veterans group, the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation that “Decoration Day” be observed nationwide. The date chosen was May 30 – specifically because it was not on the anniversary of a battle.

Still, some communities did not want to honor “Decoration Day,” because of lingering resentments from the Civil War. 

The alternative name, “Memorial Day” wasn’t commonly used until World War II. Federal law recognized the holiday as “Memorial Day” in 1967.

The multitude of American flags adorning the Great Bend Municipal Cemetery Monday morning danced in a cool early summer breeze. The bright red, white and blue stood out against the grayish sky.

Then, the quiet at the Veterans Circle was broken by the mournful notes of “Taps.”  

This somber tribute punctuated the 2015 Memorial Day observance as veterans, loved ones and others honored America’s fallen service men and women. The service began with the American Legion Riders presenting the colors.

“The numbers of our fallen heroes are not just statistics,” said Katherina Smades, American Legion Post 180 commander in her remarks. “They are real people, with real families, who lived in real communities.”

Memorial Day is a time to pay homage to all veterans, especially those who are no longer with us, she said.

“We can best honor their sacrifice by remembering their families who have lost so much,” she said. “Long after the battlefield guns have been silenced and the bombs stop exploding, the children of our fallen warriors will still be missing a parent. Spouses will be without their life partners. Parents will continue to grieve for their heroic sons and daughters that died way too early.”

The morning had been filled with remembrances. Representatives of local veterans’ groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts presented placed wreaths honoring the area’s war dead in all conflicts at the foot of the flag pole rising from the circle’s center. They all marched in silence, halted, and placed the tributes, saluted, turned about-face and marched back.

“They each have stories to tell,” Smades said. “The crosses at Normandy. The markers at Punchbowl. The tombs at Arlington. The fallen heroes who rest in places unknown.”

From our founding Revolution to today’s Global War on Terrorism, nearly one million men and women in the Armed Forces have sacrificed their lives while defending America in time of war, she said.

She recalled the story of Dale M. Hansen, a 19-year-old from Wisner, Neb. He landed on Okinawa with his unit on Easter, 1945, and Brittany Gordon, a 24-year-old Army specialist. Hansen was killed by a sniper after his Medal of Honor heroics in the South Pacific and Gorden died in eastern Afghanistan on Oct. 13, 2012.

“They will be forever young,” Smades said. “Real people, real stories.”

“We need to be there for them as American citizens,” Smades said. “Nobody can replace these fallen heroes – especially in the eyes of their families – but we can offer shoulders to cry on, assistance with educational expenses and assurance that their loved one’s sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

Americans must remember that freedom isn’t free. In fact, it’s only possible because our fallen heroes have paid its high price  – A price paid, which enables us to have ceremonies and observances like this in towns across this great country – she said.

“As the unofficial beginning of summer, let us never lose focus of what Memorial Day means,” Smades said. “It is not about beaches, picnics or auto races. It is a day to remember.

“It is a day for us to remember the promise President Lincoln made to “care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan,” she said. “Remembering our fallen once a year is not enough. We owe it to the heroes that died and the loved ones left behind to make sure that their sacrifices are remembered and that their service to this nation always be honored.”

The celebration adjourned to the Arkansas River Bridge south of Great Bend to honor those who died at sea and then to the Golden Belt Veterans Memorial north of Great Bend for a brief ceremony and wreath laying.