Rain doesn’t dampen patriotic spirit on Memorial Day

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In front, Jacob Durrer of Waterloo Cub Scout Pack 323 carries
the American flag as fellow scouts Nicholas Hoeffken and
Carter Cozean trail behind at the start of the Memorial Day
service in Hecker. (Corey Saathoff photo)

Despite pop-up rain showers that cut short some of the festivities in Hecker and Waterloo, Monday’s Memorial Day observances provided great opportunities for Monroe Countians to remember those who died while fighting for this country.

Those attending services in Columbia, Hecker, Valmeyer and Waterloo also had the honor of listening to impactful guest speakers.

Memorial Day is a holiday of remembrance for those who have died in military service. It was born out of the Civil War and was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868.

Outside Valmeyer American Legion Post 901, U.S. Coast Guard veteran Stephen Glynn of Columbia, an honor graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, talked of his 13 years of service in different corners of the world. Glynn also introduced local World War II Coast Guard veteran Cliff Asselmeier and shared his stories of the war.

At Hecker’s St. Augustine Cemetery, U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant Brent Piel of Red Bud told how his most important belonging while serving was a cross that he still carries to this day. Piel also reminded attendees that military service does not come without sacrifice.

“Remember the veterans who have preserved our history by remembering their history,” he said.

The tail end of this year’s program in Hecker was cut as rain entered the area shortly after Piel’s remarks.

At Columbia American Legion Post 581, Harold Harres told of his service as a navigator assigned to the 459th Bomb Group from 1944 to 1945.

“In looking back at my time in service… it was shocking to actually realize how long ago World War II took place,” Harres said. “I realized that I was lucky to be on a fine crew. The plane we would be flying was a B-24 Liberator, four-engine bomber.”

Harres was all set to ship out with his crew when he came down with pneumonia.

“To leave the crew I was assigned was pretty hard to take.”

When he was discharged from the hospital, he vowed to find them. Harres told the story of successfully journeying across the world to find the guys he had initially trained with, whom he called a “fine crew.”

Outside the Monroe County Courthouse in Waterloo, intermittent sprinkles were experienced as ceremonies started at 11 a.m.  The Kaskaskia Trail Chorus delivered a stirring acapella rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

As bad weather became a reality and threatened to deteriorate rapidly, Waterloo VFW Commander Les Niemann made an on-the-spot decision to abbreviate the event and transitioned quickly to bring retired Navy Aviation Boatswains Mate First Class Robert McLeod to the podium.

A 20-year veteran with a series of sea and shore postings, McLeod focused on an experience in the beginning of his career, deployment of the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Task Force, with Marine Amphibious Unit 24 embarked, to the eastern Mediterranean.

McLeod told of seeing helicopters swarm aboard Iwo Jima with wounded marines. His ship was equipped with a large field hospital and staffed by a large medical contingent.  Later, the irony of the Marines suffering more casualties that day than since the battle for which the ship was named – Iwo Jima – would sink in.

McLeod related the severity of the impact on families, telling how he read of a wife and

mother who said she would relinquish anything in return for just five more minutes with her husband and children’s father, who died that day.

His powerful remembrance gave ample witness to the sacrifices American military men and women have made and are making today.

With wet walks and grass under feet, a hole appeared in the clouds and bright sun came down from above to tell attendees that the sacrifices of American service members have not been in vain.

Instead, they light the way ahead for our nation.

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