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A day to honor

Members of the Ralph Gracie Post 14 American Legion Color Guard present the colors Monday during a Memorial Day ceremony at Greenwood Cemetary.

BEMIDJI -- What does Memorial Day mean to you?

To Bemidji area veterans, current service members and their families, the day holds particular significance.

The Bemidji American Legion hosted a Memorial Day ceremony Monday morning that drew more than a 100 people to Greenwood Cemetery to honor service members both old and new.

The ceremony featured the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner", a Prisoner of War and Missing in Action recognition, speeches, a wreath laying and a rifle salute.

One of the speakers for the event, Corporal Tim Hodapp, spoke about his experiences as an active duty U.S. Marine who just returned from Afghanistan.

As soldiers, Hodapp said infantrymen are no strangers to sacrifice.

"When you're preparing for combat or in a combat zone, you never know when your number is up, but it doesn't matter. You do your job anyways. You look after your brother to the right and left of you," Hodapp said.

Hodapp spoke how machine gunners in the military are trained to hold suppressive fire until the last man standing if necessary, citing examples of famous World War II machine gunners who held their lines to the last man on Guadalcanal.

"The new breed that fills our ranks today are still instilled with those same morals and values of honor, courage and selflessness."

But what is selflessness? According Hodapp selflessness is the motto "so others may live."

"Today on Memorial Day, I ask that we remember where we came from. Those that laid down their life in service to our country and sacrificed it for our freedom. But not only for our freedom but for the freedom of places that no one else wants to go," Hodapp said.

Hodapp finished his speech by thanking the community for their support while he was deployed and asked attendees to remember those that are still in harms way.

After the initial ceremony, community members and veterans met in the section of the cemetery that honors the soldiers that died in the American Civil War to listen to Boy's State representative Donny Letson, 17, read the Gettysburg Address.

Letson, a junior at Bemidji High School, plans on following in his brother's footsteps by joining the United States Navy after graduation. He says that Memorial Day to him is a chance to celebrate the lives of true heroes.

"It's a day to remember and to celebrate the lives and sacrifices of those that gave it all," Letson said.

Letson's brother Jacob, 19, is attending the United States Naval Academy. Jacob said that it was hard for him to put on his uniform for the ceremony.

"It's hard to come out here in uniform. It was hard to put the uniform on today because I feel that the people that really deserve it are the ones that sacrificed it all. I just did it to honor the people we've lost and that payed the ultimate price," he said.

The boys' mother, Liz Letson, says she is proud of both her sons. "Memorial Day to me is a time to remember all the people that have served for our country and that have sacrificed so much. It's also a time to honor all of those people out there that are doing the work so that we can have our freedom."

Matthew Singer, who served in the U.S. Army in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, said his family attended the ceremony due to their strong military ties. Many in Singer's family have served in the armed forces, including a cousin who died at Pearl Harbor.

"For me, it's a good way to remember family that have served and to reconnect with patriotism in my country," Singer said.

Bob Aitken, the Bemidji American Legion Post Commander, said Memorial Day is personal to him since he went to basic training with many people who went to Vietnam and never returned. He credits all veterans for the freedom Americans have today.

"They gave their lives fighting for our freedoms that we can enjoy today.The flag flies because of their willingness to step forward and give the ultimate sacrifice."