North Big Horn County citizens turned out by the dozens on a cool, cloudy morning Monday to honor servicemen and women who have served their country in the armed forces and those who made the ultimate sacrifice during Memorial Day services in Byron, Cowley and Lovell.
Former longtime national guardsman Rich Fink organized the services and acted as the master of ceremonies at the three sites. A color guard composed of local veterans presented the flag, and Terry Wilkerson laid the bouquet of poppies in memory of servicemen lost in battle. Jerry Anderson delivered the prayer.
Members of the color guard were officer in charge True Hatch, Butch Fink, Leroy Collins, Jim Thomas, Frank Wilkerson, Mark Riley and Alvin Emmett.
Dane Mickelson played Taps on his trumpet, echoed by Ameesha Anderson, and Meg Anderson provided the cadence for the color guard with her drum.
One of the highlights of each ceremony was the performance of the Lovell Elementary School fifth-grade singing group, which sang two patriotic numbers under the direction of Chauna Bischoff.
Big Horn County Commissioner Jerry Ewen of Shell, a Vietnam veteran who flew 1,121 Huey helicopter combat missions in the war, delivered a moving address about soldiers lost in the service of their country and the price paid by both veterans and their families.
“For me, as a combat veteran, Memorial Day is a solemn occasion,” Ewen said. “It is a day when I take some time to go to a quiet place and remember those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. I have a list of names that are very special to me…If you served in combat, you have your own special list of names, because what we have here, in this beautiful land that we love so much, was bought and paid for by others – and the price was very high.
“It is important for us to note that the cost is and always has been borne by citizens who became soldiers, just like our Wyoming National Guard troops who are with us today. Some were soldiers for only a very brief time, and then they went back to their lives. They, and I include myself in that group, are the fortunate ones. For many, that brief time when they were soldiers was all the time they would ever have. Today we honor those men and women who left their families behind to lay their lives on the alter of freedom.”
Ewen recalled the words of the National Anthem as he thought back to places of battle in Vietnam, saying, “’Oh, say can you see’…Yes, I see. I see the flag and I see beyond it. ‘What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming’…The Stars and Stripes. I see you flying over Chu Lai, Qui Nhon and LZ English. I see you on the hilltop at Duc Pho and above the parade ground at Fort Wolters. I see you. I see you draped over a casket coming home from Vietnam. I see you in a weeping mother’s hands. You are at home here, also, keeping watch over this hallowed place.
“’Rocket’s red glare…bombs burting in air’…machine gun fire and tracers, incoming mortars striking inside the compound. Bullets hitting the helicopter, the smell of blood and the cries of the wounded.
“I carry some heavy knowledge that is always with me. The price paid for this. The names run through my mind. Harold…Bob…Norm…Al…Dennis…Ed…Tony. ‘Home of the brave’…We were magnificent then. Rest in peace, my friends.”
There are so many names, Ewen said, from headstones in a local cemetery to names on the black granite of the Vietnam Wall in Washington and the white marble headstones at Arlington National Cemetery.
Beyond the names, Ewen said he sees faces, faces that will be forever young.
“They never came home, but through that flag and what it means, we and they belong to something far bigger than any one of us,” he said. “As long as we live, they live. Red, white and blue frequently wash together through tears when I face the flag and hear the National Anthem. It is sadness, pride and more.”
Noting the many graduation ceremonies and parties he has attended in recent weeks, Ewen said he is glad that the bright, young, teenage faces are safe, noting, “My hope and my prayer is that we will never come here to see any of their names on a military headstone.”
As people were to go about their holiday schedule, Ewen urged them to stop for a moment and remember, to stop and reflect on those who made the ultimate sacrifice and, if they were so inclined, to offer a prayer of thanks on their behalf.
Behind all of the names on monuments and memorials is a family, he said, family and friends whose lives were changed forever by the loss of their precious loved ones.
“I remember my mother’s words just before I left for Vietnam,” Ewen said. “She took my face in her hands, looked into my eyes and said, ‘No mother ever raised her son to be a soldier.’ Never, ever forget that families serve, too. They just don’t get much recognition for it.
“We are here to honor and praise them, also. Say a prayer for those who grieve, and say a prayer of gratitude for this magnificent country in which we live. Above all, pray for peace. May God in His power and wisdom make this world a place where no human being has to take up arms against another.”
By David Peck