On a cool cloudy Memorial Day in Hamilton County, the reverence for the fallen was crystal clear.
The morning began with Rotarians quietly raising flags at many area homes and businesses. If you drove 14 miles to the west on the two lane highway 50 and a mile north on Main Street (a dirt road), you would see the tiny town of Coolidge, Kansas, honoring their fallen in a small intimate ceremony at the cemetery.
It was 8:48 am when my Yukon had to choose between rutting up Main Street north of Coolidge or turning back. I chose to rut up the muddy road to honor the fallen.
Kurtis Klinghammer, the pastor from Holly Christian church, traveled to Hartman, then Coolidge and then to Holly. Klinghammer is a Veteran US Army Medic, “Well, technically, Medical Coreman, but NO one hurt in a filed ever yelled out we need a medical coreman here.”
He began his speech, “They stepped forward. They said this is my country. Remember the men and women lying here that stood and how valuable our freedoms are. Thank God.”
The small crowd sang America the Beautiful and God Bless America. Then the Holly and Lamar VFW performed the 21 Gun salute and played TAPS.
As you go forth this summer bouncing over the ruts in the road with your heavy equipment wanting to cuss the fools who rutted the road, may you remember those that died for our freedoms. That’s the story I’m going with.
I hurried back to the Syracuse Cemetery to witness the Color Guard and the Hamilton County Veterans begin the more formal tradition of reading of the names of the Hamilton County soldiers who fought and died. We were honored to have Major (retired) Chris Englert Sukach share her words with the crowd. She mentioned she borrowed some of her speech from Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper's Battle of the Bulge 75th Anniversary speech.
"I will keep my remarks brief as we have almost 500 people to recognize in today’s ceremony. It’s a large number that speaks to this community and its culture of service, not just to our country, but to each other in general. And it’s a culture that I’m proud to have had the opportunity to grow up in.
Today, we gather to honor these service members and all Americans who have gone before us to fight for and protect the rights and liberties we enjoy today. It is because of their sacrifices, some who laid down their lives during some of the most challenging times the world has ever seen, that we are able to live in the freedom and prosperity we enjoy today.
And while some of the service members we recognize today may not have served in combat, they trained and prepared for it just the same. They ensured that the freedoms earned by those who had gone before them were upheld and that the people of this nation had the opportunity to continue to live in relative peace.
But for those who did endure combat…every battle contains multiple stories shared by those who lived the experience. And even though the stories are as varied as the service members who tell them, there are common themes. Oftentimes, they are the themes of people from different backgrounds and talents working together, balancing each other’s strengths and weaknesses to overcome adversity."
After Sukach and Captain Kai Englert read the names was the tradition of the 21 gun salute and a recording of TAPS was played. The crowd headed to the Veteran’s Memorial Building where Melanie Eddy began the Quilts of Valor presentation to nine men.
Oliver Palmer served in Vietnam with the Criminal Investigation Unit. When he returned home in 1968 most of the country did not welcome the soldiers back with warmth and praise. They were despised. But in Syracuse he was well received. He has not missed a Memorial Day ceremony in Syracuse in 62 years!
Thomas Englert trained as a Combat Medic. Tom worked in the surgery unit and received a good conduct medal and a medal for being an Expert Rifleman.
Saudford “Sonny” Blyn served in the Air Force for eight years beginning in 1961. He served as an aircraft maintenance tech in Bitburg Germany, McConnell Air Force base, Takhli, Korot and Udorn bases in Thailand.
Van Vesper entered the US Army in 1970. He served two campaigns in Vietnam with the 101st assault helicopter unit, aka the Black Widows unit. Van proudly served in the National Guard in Lamar as a mechanic with a medic unit.
Douglas Westeman began is service to our country in January of 1959. He trained at Fort Benning Georgia to shoot A4.2 mortar. He served 18 months in Bamburg, Germany. Doug received a Good Conduct medal. He was released from the Army at Fort Hamilton, New York.
Alan Hess enlisted in the US Army in 1966. He was stationed in Japan for two years and served in the Army Security Agency as a Morse code intercept operator from 1967-1969. He served in the Quang Tri Provence Firebase Charlie on the DMZ. Alan said they were so happy to have the morse code intercept operators assigned to the base, they were allowed to use the officers latrine that had hot water. Alan was released from the service in 1969.
Glenn Hess served in the US Army from 1969-1971. He served in South Korea as a legal clerk. Genn was the company clerk, so no one saw the sergeant without talking to Glenn first.
Ronald Davis served in the US Navy. His duty began in 1956 after graduating from KU. Ron served four years active duty and four years reserve. Ron was a Navy hardhat diver and aqualung diver as part of the harbor defense unit. Ron served aboard the USS Salisbury Sound. He was also a submarine operations officer.
Keith Gould entered the US Navy in 1954. He was an aircraft mechanic for seaplanes and spent a year and a half on the USS Salisbury Sound (same ship as Davis) in and around Japan. His first parachute jump was tough. They had to push him out. But after that it got easier. Keith finished his duty as a third class petty officer in 1958.
As we remember the fallen and have the opportunity to honor those who served and saw great loss, it is clear Hamilton County is proud of their service to the United States of America.
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