There was a terrific crowd in attendance at the Rice County Courthouse Memorial Day observances this morning.  That was followed by scores and scores of people lined along the parade route for what turned out to be a brief one because there were no bands.

The Central Park Program started as early as I can remember.  A super crowd was in attendance there as well.

Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Pastor Gregory Ciesluk not only did the invocation and benediction at both locations but also filled in for the traditional band duties of playing the National Anthem in Central Park.

He led the crowd in singing it without a problem.

100 year old or should I say young Joseph Skodje, a World War II Veteran was the Grand Marshal.  Initially Joe didn't want to speak but after a bit of encouragement he did come forward and thank the Rice County Central Veterans Association for the honor to participate during the event.  He said his son told him he, "Didn't want to ad lib to a crowd like this.  I know what he's talking about.  I just want to thank all of the people who were involved in this because it was amazing.  A kid from Fargo, North Dakota ending up on the stage here.  I had no idea that any of this was going to happen.  I appreciate all you guys have done for me and you gals too."

Skodje concluded, "Thank You. Thanks you. Thank you. And thank you to my family. "  He uses a walker but did not need it going to the podium and back to his Central Park Bandshell seat.  Joe was a Army Air Corps pilot who flew in the invasion of Holland.  The Faribault native celebrated his 100th birthday in March.

He returned to Minnesota in 2018 to be near his son.

The Honorary Grand Marshal was Tracy McBroom, Air Force Veteran and Rice County Veteran Services Officer.

She told the crowd after a year of COVID, "The memories and the emotions of Memorial Day are always the same.  For countless families across the nation, Memorial Day is a stark and often painful reminder of thos who were never afforded the opportunity to be honored as Veterans for their service to our country."

McBroom continued, "Their service is a true expression of selfless service.  One that no one would pick for themselves.  Whether they volunteered at a time of war or served in peacetime or never expected to wear our nation's uniform until they received a draft card they represent the best America has to offer."

"We feel their loss roaming the sacred hills of Arlington National Cemetery and other final resting places around the world.  Too many mothers, fathers, siblings and children feel the immense weight of seeing an empty chair year round. For them Memorial Day brings to the forefront what is always operating in the background.  Sending off a loved one so they can serve in combat must be a surreal experience."

McBroom added, "This will be the 20th year we've been in war.  Longer than any other American conflict that came before.  About 2.7 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and over half of them have deployed more than once."

She concluded with the story of a brave soldier losing his life in 2005.

Honored Combat Veteran Donald Langer told those in Central Park and listening on KDHL Radio when entering Vietnam in July of 1969 the infantrymen were asked to make out their wills. Langer said the flight over to Saigon "was incredibly quiet.  You didnn't know what to heck was going on but you did know not all of you were coming back."

"I found out I got a big pay raise. You got combat pay  I was over $200 a month.  A lot of money then right?   The first thing they told us was to forget all your training in the U.S. everything is different here."  Then he learned the nickname of his company was "dying delta.  I had 362 days left to go.  What could possibly go wrong?"

"The only people who would tallk to you were the people you came in country with.  That's when I met John Cross from Youngstown, Ohio. We were in the same squad together.  Well, the new guys, guess where you got put?  You walked point. The longer you were there you got to go back in the file.  For three months John and I would trade off walking point so you got to know each other quite well. "

In order to get off the point the two trained to become machine gunners. "What I didn't reallize is that you were the prime target because you had the most firepower.  Point men have heavy casualties, machine gunner right there or even more."

"February 9th John was in a different squad than I was and we were lining up to attack these bunkers.  John's squad wen to the left, mine went to the right.  The last time I seen John we said as we passed (by each other) 'be cool.'  A few minutes later they opened up.  John was gone.  Dead.  That was a life changer because we had plans to do stuff after we got out of there."

Langer talked about his visit to the man's family two years ago which gave him a new perspective on the sacrifice families make when losing a loved one.  Generation upon generation feels the void.

Rice County Central Veterans Association Commander John McDonough read the 124 names of Rice County Veterans lost over the past year.

These are very interesting.

Goosebumps and other bodily reactions, explained