In a longtime local tradition, services honoring the men and women who died for 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 commanded by Allen Sessions included Jim Woody, Leroy Collins, Frank Wilkerson, Terry Wilkerson, Scott Fink, Jim Thomas, Jerry Anderson and Jack Nicholls.
Mikel May and Leslie Blackburn Mayes punctuated each event with a rendition of “Taps.” Drummer Meg Anderson led the procession and event organizer Rich Fink acted as master of ceremonies. Jim Thomas led the ceremony in prayer. Terry Wilkerson 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 was Cowley resident Von Baird Zeller. Zeller was raised on a farm east of Lovell by his parents Clarence and Bessie Zeller.
Zeller attended Lovell schools, graduating from Lovell High School in 1965. He attended Northwest Community College from 1965-1967, where he earned his Associate in Arts Degree.
Following a two-year LDS mission, Zeller enlisted in the United States Navy in 1970, where he was trained as communication technician. In October of 1970, he married Pam Kocherhans.
Zeller served on the island of Guam from November of 1970 to June of 1972. He also served in Misawa, Japan, from June 1972 to November of 1975. He was honorably discharged in November of 1975. He came home after his military service, working in the family business (Queen Bee Gardens) from 1975 to 2014.
Zeller told the audience, though honored to be invited to speak, he would be more comfortable around a colony of honeybees than speaking in public.
He began his speech giving some historical context to the event, noting that day was originally called Declaration Day, but later evolved to become Memorial Day. He also noted that those serving in the armed forces come from all walks of life from farmers to dentists to lawyers.
“Literally every walk of life was represented,” he said. “They had characteristics in common, mainly to serve a cause greater than themselves, and they served with pride, integrity, courage, determination and selflessness. They were ordinary men and women who gave of themselves to protect those freedoms and the way of life that gave them so much.”
Zeller said his grandson entering the service put his own role in perspective.
“Had I not returned from the service, he wouldn’t be here,” explained Zeller, “because his father was born more than three years after my discharge. I also thought of my grandfather who served in the trenches in France in World War I, who later returned to raise his family. Had he been called, I wouldn’t be here. Those who give their all don’t have the opportunity that we have, to enjoy family, children and grandchildren. Today people will gather to honor those who have purchased those freedoms for us.”
Zeller said it is his firm belief that these freedoms and the U.S. Constitution did not come about without the help of God.
“Our founding fathers were inspired,” he said, noting that the Revolutionary War was fought by 13 small colonies, who beat the greatest military power on earth at the time.
“They didn’t do it alone,” said Zeller.
He said U.S. forces were outnumbered in other battles, as well, throughout history but won despite those odds.
“I don’t necessarily believe that our military minds were any better than others, but somehow our carriers found them and it was a great victory for the United States of America,” said Zeller, describing the Battle of Midway. “I don’t believe that was by chance.”
He closed his speech with a quote he found on the Internet on the Wikipedia website:
“On Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.”
By Patti Carpenter