By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Members of the Dassel-Cokato community rose early Monday morning to honor America’s fallen soldiers.
The Dassel American Legion, Paul F. Dille American Legion Post 364 hosted its Memorial Day program in the Dassel Community Cemetery starting at 9 a.m.
Pastor Mike Newsom of Lamson Evangelical Free Church of Dassel shared with the crowd that about 1.5 million American soldiers have died while on active duty.
He related this to what Jesus Christ said in John 15:13-14, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
In place of having a keynote speaker, Legion members Steve Brecht, master of ceremonies; and Carl Wilkins, post commander designate; read an introduction and brief history of each member of the Dassel American Legion.
A couple of the members who served the longest include Howard Gretsky, Navy, 22 years; and Kenneth Skalberg, Air Force, 28 years.
There are about 24 Dassel American Legion members, all of whom have helped make “the land of the free and the home of the brave” a safer place.
After a parade down Broadway Avenue concluded, community members gathered in the Cokato Elementary auditorium, where 1982 DC alumnus Jim Johnson addressed the crowd.
“Memorial Day has helped build, in my mind, what a hero is,” he stated, admitting that most of his and his friends’ childhood heros were all-star athletes.
“But we didn’t know any of these people,” said Johnson, “and at the end of the day, none of them left a lasting impression on our lives.”
His dad helped him realize that.
When Johnson was still a boy, his father, a World War II veteran, became ill, and spent many days watching his friends come and go from the Cokato post office just outside his window.
As they passed by, Johnson’s dad would often tell him stories about the World War I and II veterans. His dad would also recount the day he heard the bombing of Pearl Harbor reported over the radio. He enlisted in the Navy soon after.
In talking with his mother about the uncertainty of those times, Johnson said he realized that these soldiers served on faith; a hope that what they were doing was making a difference.
When he got older, Johnson became the young band student who would play taps at the Memorial Day program. His dad would read the names of local fallen soldiers.
“I’m sure there was a great deal of pride, and also a great deal of pain,” Johnson commented.
During those years, Johnson would join the Cokato American Legion members for breakfast at what used to be called the Norseman (in the same building as the Bait & Hook). There, he would listen to their stories of service, and also came to understand that their loved ones on the homefront also made sacrifices.
“So, today, at 54, I still have heroes,” Johnson shared. “The common people who work hard every day. The people who served this country because they believed in the ideals on which it was founded. People I had never met to make this world, this country, this community a better place.”