A gusty late spring wind whipped the multitude of American flags adorning the Great Bend Municipal Cemetery Monday morning. The bright red, white and blue of the banners stood out against the backdrop of a grey sky.
Then, the stillness at the Veterans Circle was pierced by the mournful notes of Taps blown by a solitary trumpeter reverberated among the decorated headstones and other grave markers.
This somber tribute punctuated the 2019 Memorial Day observance as veterans, their loved ones and others gathered to pay homage to America’s fallen service men and women. The service opened with the American Legion Riders presenting the colors.
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.
“It’s an honor as a veteran myself to be here, to remember the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our beloved country,” said LaForrest Bodine, commander of the Great Bend Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3111 and Vietnam Army vet. “Memories of our families that rest in our cemeteries have all protected our way of life.”
He recited the oath taken by those enlisting in the armed forces to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” “There is no greater honor than to serve our great nation.”
Bodine traced the post-Civil War origins of Declaration Day that eventually evolved into what we now call Memorial Day. He also ran through a list of conflicts which have claimed the lives of American service personnel, from world wars to lesser-known actions in Africa to the ongoing wars in the Middle East.
“In closing, we have gathered here to honor, with open arms and open hearts, those who sacrificed their lives, and those who are protecting our lives, freedoms and the future,” he said. More than a million Americans have died in combat, and there are currently just about 1.5 million serving in the military.
Among the many present were several veterans of various ages. Many wore at least a part of their uniforms.
As the crowd dispersed, many lingered and walked among the grave markers and crosses, each with a small American flag placed their by Cub and Boy scouts last week. Some just looked. Some looked for specific headstones – those of family members or loved ones.
This year’s observation was organized by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3111. Other groups taking part included American Legion Auxiliary Post 180, Sons of the American Legion Squad 180, Sons of the American Legion Squad 180, The American Legion Riders Post 180, Veterans of foreign Wars Post 3111, Veterans of foreign Wars Auxiliary Post 3111, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 27, Boy Scout Troop 149, and Girl Scout Troop 11135.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day to remember who have died in our nation’s service. It was born out of the carnage of the Civil War was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868. It has since become a federal holiday observed on the first Monday of May to honor the fallen of all conflicts.
The celebration adjourned to the Arkansas River Bridge south of Great Bend to honor those who died at sea.