By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN While the wind was cold, and the clouds occasionally spat rain, residents of Dassel and Cokato ventured out of their cozy homes Memorial Day to local streets and cemeteries to pay their respects to the men and women who died defending the US.
Dassel started its Memorial Day program at 9 a.m. in the Dassel Community Cemetery, where former Army Captain and Dassel native Drew Hultgren addressed the crowd.
He opened his speech by admitting he had never fought in combat throughout his four years of service, and therefore was initially hesitant to accept the request to speak at the ceremony.
He then remembered, however, “[Memorial Day] isn’t really about me. It’s not really about veterans. It’s about those who died” defending American freedom.
Hultgren told the story of Captain George Grey, who participated in the Invasion of Normandy and was the only survivor of the 30 men in his unit. They were flying 15 planes, and were all shot down without ever hitting the enemy.
While “objectively speaking, these men were failures,” since they weren’t able to complete their mission Captain Grey kept the story of his fallen comrades alive so that others would know of their sacrifice.
“In truth, Grey was a hero,” stated Hultgren, because he made sure his men were never forgotten.
Hultgren said it is the mission of every survivor, every veteran, and every listener to remember and honor the cost of the fallen by sharing their stories.
He continued by expressing his personal appreciation for what the people of Dassel gave his uncle Dave Anderson.
Anderson was a major and pilot in Vietnam, who flew CH-46 helicopters to transport wounded soldiers to safety. He was shot out of the sky twice.
When he returned home and entered an American airport, the people inside turned their backs to him without a word.
He lived his life without ever hearing a word of gratitude for his service until only a few years ago, when he rode the veterans’ float during the Red Rooster Day parade at the invitation of a family member.
“The people cheered,” recanted Hultgren. “You cheered. That was the first time he had ever been thanked.”
In concluding his address, Hultgren shared the following quote by George S. Patton: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”
Following a parade down Broadway Avenue, Cokato’s Memorial Day program took place in the Cokato Elementary auditorium. During the program, Boys and Girls State representatives, Josh Skouge and Amaya Brandt shared poems honoring soldiers who never made it home, while another Boys State representative, Grant Thinesen read a letter written by a US soldier named Tim five days before he was killed.
The Memorial Day address was given by former Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) of the US Air Force Don Dufner, who spoke on the number of lives taken for the freedom Americans can take for granted:
• World War I 166,000 killed;
• World War II 145,399 killed;
• Korean War 36,516 killed;
• Vietnam War 58, 209 killed;
• Iraq 4,486 killed; and
• Afghanistan 2,150 killed ,to date.
These numbers total more than 623,000 American soldiers who have paid the ultimate price for their country and its liberties.
Before his retirement, Dufner said some of his most memorable experiences occurred during his last two years in the service. At this time, Dufner was involved with the Fallen Warrior Ceremonies a service where active servicemen could pray and say their good-byes to deceased comrades before their bodies were returned to their families.
Dufner participated in more than 25 of these ceremonies, and was moved by the honor and respect they provided to the fallen men and women who earned them.
Dufner ended his Memorial Day address with a reading from “In Memoriam,” by Lilian Leader, in which is said, “And when you see a flag-covered casket, stand in memoriam of all the soldiers’ faces you’ve examined. For when one of them falls, they all fall. And when one of them stands, they all stand. Shouldn’t we stand with them?”