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Brainerd Memorial Day ceremony draws large crowd

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Veterans Jerry Mclane, (left) and Steve Amerud, both Marine Corps League, Ed Peck and Bill Wroolie both Purple Heart recipients, and Steve Rosenow, Disabled American Veterans, receive poppies Monday from Kate Boberg. Kate usually gives the veterans cards but this year, she chose flowers at the Memorial Day Ceremony in Evergreen Cemetery. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch Gallery and Video2 / 2

The audience numbered in the hundreds as people gathered in Evergreen Cemetery Monday to honor the lives of fallen soldiers for Memorial Day.

There was no rain, but the sky was overcast, giving a muted light to the wooden scaffold where the speakers addressed the crowd.

Sitting among the graves just before the ceremony started were Millie and Chuck Mulholland, a couple from Brainerd in folding camp chairs. Their son was serving in the National Guard, and had done two overseas tours, one in Iraq and one in Kuwait.

"In memory of those who serve, and have served," Millie Mulholland said when asked why she was there.

She later added that she hoped and prayed those others at the ceremony were there for the same reason.

Alyssa Nelson was there with her young children, Lucy, 2, and Graham, 4. The family was there to honor the children's grandfather, a veteran, and their father Paul, a member of the Air Force who was deployed to the Middle East.

Lucy and Graham were not very talkative, but clearly intrigued with the miniature flags they had been given to wave. Perhaps this is how young patriots are made.

When the ceremony started, speakers ruminated on the sacrifice of veterans and what it meant, expressing their gratitude for those who had died while serving. They quoted past presidents of the United States, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson excerpted a 2009 speech by former President Barack Obama for Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery.

"If the fallen could speak to us, what would they say? Would they console us? Perhaps they might say that while they could not know they'd be called upon to storm a beach through a hail of gunfire, they were willing to give up everything for the defense of our freedom. That while they could not know they'd be called upon to jump into the mountains of Afghanistan and seek an elusive enemy, they were willing to sacrifice all for their country. That while they couldn't possibly know they would be called to leave this world for another, they were willing to take that chance to save the lives of their brothers and sisters in arms."

Brainerd Mayor Ed Menk focused on the war dead of World War I in his remarks, giving a background in the writing of the poem "In Flanders Fields" by Canadian John McRae in 1915. As Menk described, the dead of World War I were often buried near where they fell rather than being returned home. The battlefield of Ypres in the Flanders region in Belgium was covered with poppies that flourished in the disturbed soil where soldiers were buried, then represented by the poppies in the poem.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan rattled off names of men he had known growing up in Brainerd that later served in the armed forces, and some that had died. He quoted the saying that the flag doesn't fly because of the wind blowing, but rather because the last breaths of the soldiers who died defending it. Nolan analyzed Lincoln's insistence in the Gettysburg Address that the government "of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" as a call for Americans to honor those who had served so that more may one day take their place in defending the nation.

"The degree to which young men and women will be willing to serve and protect our freedoms in the future will be directly proportional to how we respected those who had served in the past," Nolan said.

U.S. Coast Guard veteran Doug Keran was the featured speaker. He gave the history of Memorial Day, and noted the United States had taken part in 228 armed conflicts. From the Civil War until the present day roughly 33.4 million men and women have served, nearly a million of them giving their lives, he said.

Pastor Mark Skinner of Bethlehem Lutheran Church gave the invocation and benediction. Elise Sopelle led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, and also recited "In Flanders Fields." Her brother Aaron delivered a rendition of the Gettysburg Address. Equally impressive was the Brainerd High School Band, who marched to the ceremony site while playing, and also did a few numbers during the ceremony itself—all without sheet music.