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Park Rapids American Legion auxiliary member Katy Hochstatter tosses a poppy wreath from the Red Bridge into Fish Hook River to remember fallen soldiers on Memorial Day. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Soldiers honored on Memorial Day

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It was a day to remember reluctant heroes, those who served when called upon.

For the past 40 years the last Monday in May has been set aside for remembrances, tears and patriotism.

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In Park Rapids, Col. John A. Clauer spoke about the core military values of courage, honor and commitment and the importance of Memorial Day Monday morning.

The tradition of remembrance for those who have died serving their country, Memorial Day, originated during the Civil War when more Americans lost their lives than all other wars combined.

"It's important to preserve and dedicate this day to the memory of the heroic dead," Clauer said.

The day is important not just for the military but for every citizen, he said.

Many soldiers sacrifice their lives for their country because of a deep sense of honor and devotion, Clauer said. He recalled the story of Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart, who sacrificed his life in 1993 during the Battle of Mogadishu.

"He had incredible courage and was awarded the Medal of Honor," Clauer said.

He also said the passengers of Flight 93 need to have our gratitude and respect for stopping terrorists from causing more deaths on Sept. 11, 2001.

Clauer charged the audience to be diligent and pass on these stories to future generations.

"Not to just remember but to pass on values. We must never stop reminding them of the sacrifice," he said. "We need to remind future generations that freedom is not free."

The Memorial Day Service in Park Rapids also included a performance by the High School band under the direction of Jared Larson and special music by Dave "Lefty" Anderson.

Following the service at the high school, servicemen and women marched to Red Bridge Park for a floral tribute at Fish Hook River. Park Rapids Legion Auxiliary member Katy Hochstatter tossed a floral wreath into the river.

From there, the service continued at the All-Veterans Memorial Park on U.S. Highway 71 south, where the Ladies Auxiliary and Blue Star Mothers presented wreaths. A flag folding, flag disposal and taps concluded the program.

The Park Rapids American Legion Otto Hendrickson Post 212 and Park Rapids Legion Auxiliary sponsored the memorial service.

"It was 59 years ago at Camp Carson, Colorado, when I got my discharge papers," said Bemidji veteran Gordy Oslin at a Laporte ceremony.

The nation didn't designate Memorial Day until 1971, he said with gratitude.

But whether at war or in peacetime, Oslin urged his audience to "take time to help somebody. Be always available to help people."

Such was the message heard throughout Hubbard County and the nation Monday.

"We have constant reminders they're gone and not coming home," Laporte's keynote speaker said.

Veteran Jim Smith said it's important to help vets reintegrate into society when they return home. Even veterans of the most recent conflicts in the Middle East need support and veterans services.

Laporte's annual ceremony was preceded by a bit of drama when a toddler was able to engage the gears on the family's minivan one block away from the school where ceremonies were to be held.

The van sped downhill, gathering momentum, raced across Highway 200 and plunged down a grassy slope before coming to a stop.

The toddler was not injured and was sitting quietly but wide-eyed in his car seat an hour later wondering what all the fuss was about.

His mother, who asked that her name not be used, was a nervous wreck. The State Patrol said the older Dodge van was not equipped with the safety feature of having to step on the brake before putting the vehicle into gear.

At the public access, Laporte honored those lost at sea. American Legion Auxiliary president Susan Cotant tossed a decorated wreath into Lake Garfield as a firing squad's shots echoed across the lake and back.

A traditional graveside ceremony followed.

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