Monday marked the 50th annual celebration of Memorial Day as a federal holiday, and hundreds of Monroe County residents came out to show their support even as the pandemic again affected ceremonies.
Waterloo American Legion Post 747 and VFW Post 6504 again hosted their usual event on the Monroe County Courthouse grounds after having a virtual tribute last year.
The observance was abbreviated due to COVID-19 concerns, but it still included remarks from three speakers and patriotic music.
“Memorial Day ceremonies mean more to me today as I grow older,” VFW Commander John Fuller told the over 100 people gathered. “I lost a few friends on the battlefields of Vietnam. I know they would have appreciated the way they are being honored today.”
Fellow veteran Roy J. May, longtime American Legion Post 747 Commander, also spoke from experience.
“Since the American Revolution to the Global War on Terror, over one million men and women have made the supreme sacrifice,” May said. “That is why we have Memorial Day services. The empty seat at the dinner table, the smaller gathering at Thanksgiving, the voices of the loved one heard only as a distant memory are constant reminders that they are gone.”
Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith also admonished those present to not overlook those who returned from their service forever changed.
“Do not forget the men and women suffering with PTSD from their scars of battle,” he said.
Columbia American Legion Post 581 held what it hopes will be its final drive-in ceremony Monday morning.
The event included Kamryn Zavorka’s rendition of the national anthem, a call of the honor roll of Legion members who have died in the last year and the placing of the wreath at the Doughboy Monument, complete with rifle salute.
The Legion also honored 13 women for 50 or more years of service to Auxiliary Unit 581. The longest-serving member is Dorothy Pieper with 68 years of service.
“Thank you all for your many years of service and dedication,” Auxiliary President Janet Janson said.
Post 581 Commander Greg Smith gave closing remarks, speaking about Cindy Beaudoin, a University of Connecticut student who enlisted in the National Guard and served as a medic during the Gulf War.
The daughter of a Vietnam veteran, Beaudoin could have avoided deployment because of a chronic back issue, but she chose not to.
On Feb. 28, 1991, mere hours after a cease-fire ended the war, Beaudoin’s convoy struck a landmine, killing the 19-year-old.
“Like many soldiers going to war, specialist Beaudoin wrote a letter to be delivered to her parents in the event that she didn’t return,” Smith recounted. “‘I did not come here to be a hero,’ she wrote. ‘I came here because my country needed me to be here. As much as I hate being so far away from home, I am here with thousands of other soldiers helping to bring down a very deranged tyrant…If I should die while helping to achieve this, then I did not die in vain.’”
Smith acknowledged that wars are unpopular, with good reason, but said that is not the fault of those who served.
“We are here today to honor all of our fallen heroes,” Smith said. “We honor American heroes from the American Revolution through the Global War on Terrorism, and every battle in between. The location is unimportant. It is the hearts of these men and women that truly matters. It is the devotion within that led them to sacrifice their lives for the country that we all love.”
Valmeyer American Legion Post 901 hosted its usual outdoor service Monday morning.
Features of its ceremony included honoring Gary Miller Jr. for 50 years of service to the Legion and Korean War veteran Fred Meister for 70 years of service to the Legion, placing a wreath to honor Gold Star mothers and a rifle salute.
Raymond Heinen, a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve major who served on active duty from 1967-1971, gave the Memorial Day address.
He recognized veterans present and told some of their stories.
“It is time for us to thank those who have made the ultimate sacrifice of a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a father or a mother for the cause of freedom,” Heinen said. “It is time to say a prayer for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our way of life.”
He also cited the same statistic of one million service members who have died.
“Each person who died during those conflicts was a loved one cherished by family and friends. Each was a loss to the community and the nation,” he said.
Heinen closed by asking those present to “consider the possibility that we just might be involved in a second Cold War,” citing the rise of the Chinese Communist Party, domestic communism becoming more prevalent and a crisis in education.
“In this new Cold War, we have both foreign and domestic enemies of our way of life and freedom,” Heinen said.