In a longtime local tradition, services honoring the men and women who served their country were held on Memorial Day at the Byron, Cowley and Lovell cemeteries. As in past years, the events were well attended, with many individuals attending all three ceremonies.
Each event began with a ceremonial march and a display of the flags in honor of the veterans who served their country, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The color guard included Butch Fink, Leroy Collins, Frank Wilkerson, Scott Fink, Jim Woody, Jerry Anderson and Jack Nicholls.
Ray Messamer and Dale Fowler punctuated each event with a rendition of “Taps.” Drummer Meg Anderson led the procession and event organizer Rich Fink acted as master of ceremonies. Chaplain Reed Williams
led the ceremony in prayer. Jerry Anderson laid a wreath of poppies, the symbol of military sacrifice, at each site. Lovell Elementary School students directed
by music teacher Chauna Bischoff performed patriotic songs for those attending the events.
This year’s speaker former U.S. Coast Guard officer and longtime Big Horn County Search
and Rescue team member Jim Thomas was a veteran familiar to many attending. Thomas, who enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in the spring of 1972, was honorably discharged in the spring of 1978 with a rank of 2nd Class Petty Officer ASM with a specialty in search and rescue.
Thomas gave a very moving speech that began with a brief history of how Memorial Day became a national holiday. He spoke about the Revolutionary War, both World Wars and acknowledged local veterans like Frank Rasmussen, Bill Powell and Ray Minchow who served in World War II.
“These are an example of those who came home to give to society,” said Thomas. “But what of the millions that did not come home… We continue to honor these dead. But we do not do it alone.”
Thomas also spoke of Korean War veterans, calling them “the mainstay of my brothers and sisters in the VFW and American Legion.” He noted how those members can always be counted on to serve as honor guards at funerals.
“We will not forget,” he said.
Of Vietnam veterans he said, “Those my age, speak of the terrible weight of being trained and knowing how to take a human life and having to do so. This burden added to by a country that would forget an unpopular war. A nation that said it was OK to spit on service men in airports.”
He spoke tearfully of how Vietnam veterans, including himself were treated upon returning home adding, “I am proud to say Wyoming is not one of those. We do not forget our veterans.”
This very emotional part of his speech brought tears to many attending the ceremony.
“So today we fly our great flag at half-staff, in honor of those who have died,” he concluded. “We will not let those who served and died be forgotten.”
Though born in Cheyenne, Thomas graduated from Burlington High School in 1971. His military honors include 13th USCG District recognition for organizing and instructing the first EMT training for the U.S. Coast Guard in 1975. He also received the Robert A. Perchard Award for meritorious service in 1976 and was awarded a special Unit Accommodation for rescue while stationed at USCG Air Station Port Angeles.
Thomas is a three-time recipient of the Sikorsky Air-Sea Rescue Award and was recognized with the Best Shipmate Award during basic training.
Thomas has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wyoming in medical technology with minors in microbiology and biochemistry (1980) and an Associate of Science from the Northwest College of Nursing, winning the Outstanding Student Award in the Life and Health Division in 2003.
He is involved in the Boys Scouts of America, and has been honored with the Silver Beaver Award. As an officer in the North Big Horn Search and Rescue squad he has helped many fellow citizens in life-threatening situations. He is a lifetime member of the American Legion and active member of the local color guard.
Thomas said he was honored when asked to speak at the event but bewildered as to why.
“Maybe they were looking for something different,” he chuckled.
By Patti Carpenter