Published On: Thu, May 30th, 2013

Speaker brings Memorial Day message to Laurel

LAUREL — Monday’s Memorial Day observance began with the Laurel veterans placing the Colors.

LCC students, Lacey Schindler, Mitch Hartman, Chace Hirschman, Kelsey Dietrich, and Ellie Arduser then sang the National Anthem.

Pastor William Engebretsen spoke the invocation and later the benediction.

A patriotic number, “Who Are the Brave,“ sung by the Marian Mallatt Singers, was dedicated to the late Marian  Mallatt, who directed the chorus for 57 years. Her daughter, Claudia Dvorak, directed the song as well as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Featured speaker, Fran Crowe, of McCool Junction, honored veterans by saying, “I salute you and thank you sincerely for your part in the military.”

Several times, he noted because of the service by the military we have freedoms many of us take for granted.

He used the book “Flags of our Fathers” by James Bradley as a basis for most of his remarks.

The book chronicles the lives of the six young men who were in the photo of the Marines raising the flag over Iwo Jima in WW II,  which was the inspiration for the Iwo Jima Memorial.

The six men were:

Harlan Block, who was the soldier putting the pole in the ground. He died at age 21.

Rene Gagon was just 18, and placed a picture of his girlfriend in his helmet for protection because he was scared.

Soldier Sergeant Mike Strank, was called the “old man” at 24.  He was known to motivate his men by saying “You do what I say, and I’ll get you home to your mothers.” But he didn’t get home.

Ira Hayes, portrayed in the Johnny Cash song, “Drunken Ira Hayes, the Whiskey Drinking Indian Who Went off to War,” survived, and was honored by President Truman as a hero.  Hayes said, “How can I feel like a hero when 250 of my buddies hit the island with me and only 27 walked off alive?” He lived with the images of war and died 10 years later, dead drunk, face down in a ditch.

Fun-loving Frank Sousley, was a hillbilly from Kentucky whose mother was heard screaming through the night when she received the telegram that he was dead.

Author James Bradley’s father lived until 1994, but when the press would call and ask for him, young Jimmy and his siblings were trained to say, “No, I’m sorry, sir, my dad’s fishing in Canada.  No, there is no phone there, sir.  No, we don’t know when he’ll be back.”  Usually, he was right there, but  didn’t want to talk to the press.

Crow also talked about two well-known men, who like many veterans, didn’t talk about their experiences after returning, but went on about their tasks at home.

They were Bob Keeshan, a Sergeant in the Marines who earned the Navy Cross for bravery at Iwo Jima and was better known as TV’s Captain Kangaroo and Fred Rodgers, a master in small arms and hand-to-hand combat in VietNam. Rodgers had over 25 kills to his name, but became known after the war to many children as TV’s Mr. Rodgers.

Crowe said, “If you ever get to the monument, look closely and count the hands supporting the flag.  There are 13 hands.  The builder of the monument said the 13th hand was the hand of God.”

Crowe ended with a prayer thanking God for the freedoms we take for granted and asking Him to bless families of fallen soldiers and  help us honor those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.

The audience joined the chorus in singing “God Bless America” to close the program.

At the cemetery, after a prayer by Engebretsen, the American Legion and VFW Auxiliaries placed flowers in honor of the unknown soldier. Shannon Hassler read the roll call of deceased veterans and Bob Dickey played taps.