Honoring their sacrifice: Brainerd Memorial Day celebration pays tribute to fallen servicemembers
Jamie, Jerry and Gary. These names resonate with Tim Bray--the Crow Wing County engineer, though his day-job took a backseat to his lesser-known past as a veteran and 25-year-long career in the Navy and Navy Reserve. For Bray, Memorial Day brings...
Jamie, Jerry and Gary.
These names resonate with Tim Bray-the Crow Wing County engineer, though his day-job took a backseat to his lesser-known past as a veteran and 25-year-long career in the Navy and Navy Reserve. For Bray, Memorial Day brings to the fore and elevates what is already a cherished place in his mind-three names, three friends, three souls lost to war.
"Everytime the pledge of allegiance is recited, or the national anthem is played, I take the time to honor the memory of Jamie, Jerry and Gary, by looking at the flag and finding the three highest stars I can find and simply utter their names," Bray said during the ceremony in Evergreen Cemetery in north Brainerd. "I've done it like five times today and hundreds of times since 2006. It gives me the strength to do my work and I ask them to watch over me as I serve the public."
It was a moment of particular poignancy in a day filled with reflection. Brainerd celebrated Memorial Day Monday, May 28, in the form of an an extended procession that started at the Laurel Street bridge with a wreath laying for those lost at sea, then stops at the Crow Wing County Courthouse and the Bataan Memorial on Wright Street, proceeding on to a parade east from B Street to Third Avenue and then north from Third Avenue to Evergreen Cemetery-a litany of memorials and speeches, punctuated by prayers and 21-gun salutes.
Prayers, proclamations, patriotism, pride-much of what Memorial Day means is punctuated with words that start with "P," although what may set Brainerd's festivities apart is the word "participation." As the procession of veteran groups, city government officials and the high school band made their way down Third Avenue, spectators-people crowding the curbs, sitting in lawn chairs-clapped and cheered, then dutifully did as they've done for years: packed up their things and fell in behind the parade as if they were part of it.
No pomp or fanfare for this quiet little tradition, but it blurs the line between Memorial Day observer and Memorial Day participant. It speaks to what Memorial Day is all about, said Steve Rosenow during the ceremony. Much like Thanksgiving or Christmas, Memorial Day is often marked by rampant materialism, Rosenow said, when it's true purpose is anything but.
He congratulated those gathered in the cemetery for seeing the holiday as it was intended and honoring that purpose.
"You get it, you understand, you're here-this is not just the unofficial start of summer, a time to shop those Memorial Day sales," said the former Crow Wing County veterans service officer and veteran of the Vietnam War. "This is the day to reflect and remember on those who sacrificed so that we could spend everyday with our family and friends."
Memorial Day-both a time of reflection and a time for friends and family-is what brings the Blancks back to town each year. Cousins Gerald and Daren Blanck now live far afield, but they said they continue to honor a family tradition-marking 43 years of their own lives, grounded through five generations of Blancks buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
"It's a family tradition to come out here, we remember the veterans and we remember and pay our respects to our family members," said Gerald Blanck, now a resident of Dayton, but originally from Brainerd.
Daren Blanck-now a pastor of a small church on the north shore in Lake Superior, though he originally hails from Nisswa-said the sacrifices of American servicemembers through the decades is often unappreciated by virtue of the freedoms they fought for. People lose sight of the real meaning of Memorial Day exactly because they have the luxury to do so.
"There does seem to be this disconnect that people have between history, and the services people have given throughout history, and their everyday lives-they see Memorial Day as a recreation day," Daren Blanck said. "It's only because of these sacrifices during times of conflict that we can celebrate today."
This luxury is one Rosenow never enjoyed, least of all on Memorial Day. The Vietnam War veteran spoke at length of 38 friends he lost in south Asia, now immortalized forever in the black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"I see the faces everyday. When I see the young men and women today of our high school or members of the band here today, I see the young faces of those men who are no longer here, that I served with," Rosenow said. "Young men, 17 to 20 years of age- they never got to fall in love, get married or have a future. They are forever young."
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