On a windy, Monday morning, the flags lining one of Valley View Cemetery’s internal roads flew at half mast.
Bursts of fresh flowered color popped on various gravesites. Less than a half-hour before its Memorial Day ceremony, the cemetery was busy, blustery and relatively quiet. Parked cars packed the sides of the roads, the people they had carried weaving and wandering through the maze of headstones, looking for familiar names.
Valley View’s ceremony would bring in dozens of people to remember fallen loved ones and honor those still with us. Older men with hats marking them as veterans from World War II, Vietnam, representing the U.S. Navy or Marines, sat amongst a sea of folding chairs. The organization Vets for Veterans rolled in on motorcycles, showing support and flying their flags.
Looking over the crowd later that morning, master of ceremonies Jim Auel would say he had been to a lot of Memorial Day events, and Garden City’s always had the biggest turnout he had seen.
“Veterans sure like to thank the public here for honoring us. Thank you,” Auel said.
At the beginning of the ceremony, a veteran walked forward, placing a prisoner of war shirt over the back of a folding chair. It sat empty, facing the speakers throughout the morning.
Later, the audience applauded the Garden City Municipal Band as it played the songs of each branch. Unit commanders called out the names of the 28 local veterans who had passed away in the past year.
Leonard Hitz, a former U.S. Marine, acted as guest speaker. He told the visitors about his uncle, a passionate farmer and horse owner who fought and died in World War II.
“Our family’s story is not unique. There are thousands of other stories similar to ours,” Hitz said. “Stories of families who lost loved ones in a war. Families that have sacrificed the life of a son or a daughter defending our country. So on this Memorial Day, as we gather to remember those that have given their lives defending our country, let us assure ourselves that they did not die in vain. That their loss will never be forgotten. That they will be more than just a name on a wall.”
Hitz asked the crowd to remember how protesters treated soldiers during the Vietnam War and to be proud of American soldiers fighting today.
“We are showing the world the colors red, white and blue will never run. We will stand our post to the end, even if it means death. But we will never run, and most importantly, we will never kneel,” Hitz said.
Auel returned to the stage, asking veterans to stand if they were able when the war they fought in was listed. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Operation Freedom, Auel listed. Even those who had trouble standing rose; a World War II veteran pushed himself upwards, a fellow veteran helping him up.
As the Honor Guard sounded off the 21-guns salute and the ceremony drifted into "Taps," Auel addressed the crowd.
“Everybody that’s a veteran had in the back of their minds. They served so their descendants wouldn’t have to, and it’s never happened. It’d be nice not to have war again,” Auel said.
The crowd stood, once more reflecting on those lost and those fighting, and watched as the flag in front of them, to the sound of an electric whir, rose to the top of its pole.
As the ceremony closed, as visitors hugged and spoke and packed up American flag chairs and wound their way back through headstones, Vietnam veteran John Johnson walked down the cemetery’s aisle of flags, lifting the flags to full staff, one by one.
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.