Monroe County reflects on Memorial Day

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Pictured, Valmeyer American Legion Honor Guard member Allan Guttmann walks with the memorial wreath during Monday’s Memorial Day service in Valmeyer.

At the first Decoration Day ceremony on May 30, 1868, then general and future U.S. President James Garfield addressed a gathering at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, saying, “For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”  

Garfield was speaking as a Civil War veteran in honor of all who died during combat as members of the United States military. After his speech, the crowd decorated the graves of fallen soldiers.

The day has become known now as Memorial Day and is reserved as a holiday to pay homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in every armed conflict since the Revolutionary War.

Memorial Day ceremonies took place Monday in Waterloo, Columbia and Valmeyer. 

Monroe County Commissioner Dennis Knobloch cited Garfield’s famous speech during his keynote address on the Valmeyer American Legion grounds.

“I have never served, and I can’t take credit for that kind of service. For many of us, we have little or no knowledge of the details of life in the military,” Knobloch said.

Knobloch instead shared one of his late relative’s words to personalize the effects of war – not only on the soldier, but also on the family members left behind to worry and grieve.

Knobloch explained that his great-aunt Elsa kept all correspondence sent by his great-uncle Louis Knobloch from the months in 1918 between when he was drafted to the time he left for France for World War I.

Louis Knobloch, born in 1892, was married in May 1918. A short time later, he received notice of being drafted into military service.

His letters from late June to early August 1918 begin with a lighter tone. 

In the first excerpt Dennis shared from a June 28 letter, Louis gave his brother Albert a basic description of training and asked his brother Fred to “send cigarettes and matches.”   

Dennis noted the letters began to take a more somber tone as deployment became more of a reality for his great-uncle.

In mid-July, Louis wrote a letter to his father after his transfer from Camp Taylor in Kentucky to Camp Beauregard in Louisiana.

“I don’t like it here a bit, and I haven’t seen a man that likes it yet,” Louis wrote.

Later in the month, he wrote Elsa, saying “They say we should get to Virginia in August. And from there we go across. I think sometimes I should stop writing home and forget about home. And then again I think it’s nothing to cross (the Atlantic Ocean). I only hope I can come home one more time before I cross.”

Louis never again saw his home or his family.

In his final letter before being sent to France, Louis wrote “You take good care of yourselves, and I’ll do the best I can. I hope I’ll be back and enjoy life again like I used to. Keep the farm the way it was and I’ll tend to it when I get back again. If you go to church, pray for me.”

The next communication Louis’ family received was notice of safe arrival in  France in mid-August. 

Not long after, though, the Knoblochs of Maeys Station received notice that Louis had been killed in battle on Oct. 9, 1918.

The German Army surrendered just one month later. 

The family decided to let Louis rest in the Meuse–Argonne region of France where he died alongside tens of thousands of fellow U.S. soldiers.

Louis’ wife gave birth in December 1918 “to a son who would never know his father,” Dennis said.

Dennis also shared something his great-uncle Albert told him.

“Every time a train went through, (Louis’) mother would go to a window with the hope that this had all been a bad dream. His mother would grieve the rest of her life,” Dennis recalled.

“All those who put on the uniform to protect our freedom know there is always that chance they may never return to their home or to their family,” Dennis concluded, adding all those who died and the surviving families are owed “the highest level of respect and gratitude. We don’t know them all, but we owe them all.”

The speakers at the Memorial  Day ceremony held at Columbia American Legion Post 581 also paid homage to a fallen soldier from Monroe County.

With Columbia providing a special emphasis on those who served in the Vietnam War, it was appropriate that guest speaker Columbia Alderwoman Mary Ellen Niemietz shared her memories of Staff Sgt. Robert F. Holden Jr.

Holden, a Columbia native, was killed in action May 7, 1968, while serving in Vietnam. 

“We are here to honor the memory of all of our men and women who have died in the defense of our freedom and American way of life,” Niemietz began.

“We must remember these sacrifices. If they are forgotten, then they died in vain,” she continued.

Niemietz then shared her tribute to Holden, who she knew by the nickname of “Moe.” Holden was a year ahead of Niemietz’s brother in school and a teammate of his in several Columbia sports.

“I remember him at our house on West Legion Avenue. He was such a nice guy – even to his friend’s little sister,” Niemietz recalled.

She said Holden had plans to attend college and eventually pursue a career in physical education.

After being mortally wounded when his unit in Vietnam took rocket fire, “Moe didn’t get to become a P.E. teacher. He didn’t have the opportunity to marry. He didn’t get to have children and grandchildren. He didn’t get to grow old with his late brother Alan,” Niemietz said.

In Holden’s honor, Niemietz announced she will be accepting donations through Columbia City Hall for a memorial bench and commemorative plaque in Holden’s honor. The bench and plaque will be placed adjacent to American Legion Park along the GM&O Heritage Trail near Locust Street in Columbia.

“I am hopeful that those who use the trail will pause to remember Staff Sergeant Robert F. Holden Jr. and others who answered the call of duty,” Niemietz concluded.

In Waterloo, a Memorial Day ceremony was held at the grounds of the Monroe County Courthouse.

The Waterloo VFW, Waterloo American Legion, City of Waterloo, Waterloo Municipal Band and Kaskaskia Trail Chorus participated in the ceremony. 

The keynote speaker was Major Timothy E. Petrov. His deployments include two rotations to U.S. Central Command, where he was awarded the Air Medal for combat missions over Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, where he supported the U.S. Army during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. 

Petrov currently serves as Deputy Chief of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance assigned to the 618th Air Operations Center at Scott Air Force Base. 

Petrov has lived in Waterloo since December 2018.

“This is the day our nation takes pause to reflect on our collective heritage. To remember the sacrifices of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guardsmen, merchant mariners and civilians who paid the ultimate price to support and defend our great country, our vital interest and above all our highest ideals, that of freedom,” Petrov said.

“On Memorial Day, we pay homage to those who died while serving and acknowledge the immense debt we owe them,” he concluded.

(With additional reporting from Corey Saathoff and Kermit Constantine.)

Pictured, Major Timothy E. Petrov speaks during the Memorial Day ceremony in Waterloo. 
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