‘They gave up their today, so we could have tomorrow’

Published 6:03 pm Monday, May 25, 2020

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Speakers at the small Memorial Day ceremony Monday at the Albert Lea American Legion encouraged listeners to honor the area’s fallen soldiers and also to rally around the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic who, like these soldiers, are risking their lives each day for others.

“While this virus may require us to distance ourselves from traditional Memorial Day gatherings, it cannot diminish the example left behind by all the service members who died on the battlefield,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Dahlen of the Minnesota National Guard. “They gave up their today, so we could have tomorrow.”

The ceremony was much different than the typical Memorial Day event at Graceland Cemetery, which usually features band and choir members and a large audience of all ages.

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Instead of a large audience and a live band and choir, the audience of the ceremony at the Legion consisted of media members and members of the Legion Honor Guard and Legion Riders who had taken part in small ceremonies at other area cemeteries earlier that morning. Music was played from a cellphone through the microphone, and the ceremony was broadcast over KATE Radio and through the American Legion’s Facebook page.

“This is truly a different, different situation we got going on here for Memorial Day,” American Legion Leo Carey Post 56 Cmdr. Jeff Olson said. “Who would have ever thought we’d be inside of a building instead of at a cemetery. Not me. I don’t know about ya’ll, but we need to honor our fellow troops, soldiers. Male, female, we need to honor.”

Olson said approximately 1 million men and women of the U.S. military have lost their lives in defense of the nation since the founding of the republic, through enemy fire and diseases common around war zones.

Dahlen said though people had to celebrate Memorial Day differently this year, there are still several things people can do to honor the fallen service members. He said people can fly the American flag, join collectively in a national moment of remembrance and learn the stories of the soldiers who laid down their lives in service to the nation.

He said this year is the 75th anniversary of the end of the deadliest conflict in human history — World War II — in which over 400,000 Americans lost their lives. It is also the 45th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, in which nearly 60,000 Americans died.

Just as service members sacrifice their freedom, health and sometimes their futures, Dahlen said so, too, are the Americans fighting against COVID-19.

“Our first responders and medical professionals and caregivers are on the front lines bearing emotional and physical burdens of fighting this unseen … enemy every day,” he said. “We as Minnesotans must collectively rally around these heroes just as we have done in the past for service members, veterans and military families during times of war.”

Olson said these heroes have much in common with the fallen soldiers.

After the ceremony, the Honor Guard and Legion Riders members drove to Graceland Cemetery for a volley fire and taps.

Earlier in the day, they had also visited the Freeborn County veterans memorial at the courthouse and performed a brief ceremony at Fountain Lake Park, where a wreath was dropped in Fountain Lake for service members lost at sea.

“It hit me hard not to see people out there while we did our taps,” Olson said. “It’s a very hard situation right now. It really is.”