Gone but not forgotten, veterans remembered at Memorial Day ceremonies

Memorial Day ceremonies in Brainerd included a wreath toss Monday, May 31, into the Mississippi River at the Laurel Street Bridge and a 21-gun salute down the street at the All Veterans Memorial adjacent to the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse.

Bob Voels, American Legion (left), and Bill Wroolie, Military Order of the Purple Heart, toss a wreath into the Mississippi River from the Laurel Street Bridge, Monday, May 31, 2021, to honor all those veterans lost at sea. After the ceremony on the bridge, everyone walks to the All Veterans Memorial to continue the service near the Crow wing County Historic Courthouse. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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Even at the Memorial Day ceremonies in downtown Brainerd with the crowd’s patriotism on full display, retired Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek stood out.

The Army veteran wore a short-sleeve shirt resembling the American flag to the Monday, May 31, event and was overcome by emotion talking about those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

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“I wanted to support the veterans because I’m also a veteran,” said Stunek, who spent six years in the Army in the early 1970s.

The 68-year-old Brainerd resident said he personally knew those in the military who died serving their country.

“Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day are very special to me,” Stunek said, choking up. “It gets me emotional. … I want people to support all the military branches and honor the fallen.”


Retired Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek briefly talks to a couple of Brainerd police officers in their patrol car near Laurel Street during the Memorial Day ceremonies Monday, May 31, 2021, in downtown Brainerd. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Gone but not forgotten

Under a cloudless sunny sky with temperatures in the 60s, a sizable crowd turned up for the wreath toss into the Mississippi River from the Laurel Street Bridge.

“Here we are back again gathered where we traditionally start out our ceremony here at the Laurel Street Bridge,” said Bill Satre, the master of ceremonies.

Brainerd patrol cars blocked motor vehicle access on either end of the bridge near the Brainerd fire and police stations as a huge American flag hanging at the end of a fire truck ladder wafted near Laurel Street and East River Road.

“Lord, we ask you to always remind us of the price that has been paid for the freedom we live in. … May we always remember and never forget. Amen,” said the Rev. Todd Wooden, pastor of the Oak Street Chapel.


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The Memorial Day ceremonies in downtown Brainerd were abbreviated but no less solemn or respectful, with Cub Scouts and elected officials such as Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners Chairman Steve Barrows in attendance.

“At this time, we will put a wreath into the Mississippi River. And this is being done by our American Legion, and the significance of this is to commemorate those who were lost at sea,” Satre told the crowd Monday morning.

“Memorial Day is special as it is dedicated to the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice, the ones who didn’t make it back home. Today, we remember and honor all those who died while serving to preserve our way of life.”

— Bill Satre, the master of the Memorial Day ceremonies in downtown Brainerd

The shots of the 21-rifle salute that followed reverberated in the air as young and old, civilians and veterans alike, congregated to pay their respects and give thanks while taps was played.

“It’s a great day out here to give thanks to some incredible people that have come before us,” Satre said before the Memorial Day ceremony relocated to the All Veterans Memorial.

A huge American flag at the end of a Brainerd Fire Department fire engine ladder flaps gently in the breeze Monday, May 31, 2001, near East River Road as a crowd gathers for the Memorial Day ceremony on Laurel Street Bridge in downtown Brainerd. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch


All Veterans Memorial

The All Veterans Memorial at South Fourth and Laurel streets includes thought-provoking phrases etched into its surface such as “Freedom is not free,” and “Peace is worth fighting for.”

“Lord, the freedom we celebrate had a price to pay. And that price is paid by so many millions of Americans,” said Wooden, who prayed aloud. “We come today giving honor and recognition to the men and women who have gone before us. … May we always remember and never forget.”

VFW rifle squad member Marty Judd prepares to fire a volley along with squad members Monday, May 31, 2021, during Memorial Day ceremonies at the All Veterans Memorial in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The ceremony was made available online via Facebook Live at the Brainerd Memorial Day Facebook page at and was broadcast on KBLB-93.3 FM and WWWI-95.9 FM radio stations.

“Memorial Day is special as it is dedicated to the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice, the ones who didn’t make it back home,” Satre told the crowd. “Today, we remember and honor all those who died while serving to preserve our way of life.”

Cub Scout Sterling Michael Molby led the crowd that encircled the memorial between the historic courthouse and the U.S. Post Office in the Pledge of Allegiance. The boy stood before the wreaths at the base of the monument representing different service organizations.

Pastor Todd Wooden holds his hand on his heart as 10-year-old Cub Scout from Pack 36 Sterling Michael Molby recites the Pledge of Allegiance Monday, May 31, 2021, at Memorial Day Ceremonies at the All Veterans Memorial. The ceremonies began at the Laurel Street Bridge where a wreath was placed in the Mississippi River to honor all who were lost at sea. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“This Memorial Day we come together to appreciate the freedom that we enjoy today as we honor the sacrifices that paid for it as we enjoy living in the ‘land of the free’ and the ‘home of the brave,’” Satre told the attendees.

The Brainerd High School band played “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem as people held their hands over their hearts or saluted before another 21-rifle salute and the playing of taps was done at the memorial.

Brainerd Memorial Day Ceremony

“We should live the America that they died for — a country of freedom, equality, opportunity and unlimited promise — a life filled with hope … hope that what they gave us will last forever and that freedom and opportunity will find all who seek it,” Satre said.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, hosting family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season.


FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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