Memorial Day: Dillon speaks in appreciation of men, women who serve in military
From the posting of the colors to the final rifle salute and Taps, Bemidji's Memorial Day Program is a longstanding area tradition.
"I'm proud of you men and women in the service," said retired Navy airman Gene Dillon in his address Monday. "I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud to be a serviceman."
Dillon carried the rank of E6 and served during the Vietnam War Gulf of Tonkin incidents. He retired from the Navy in 1973.
"We were what they called submarine hunters," he said.
During the program at Greenwood Cemetery Dillon spoke of the courage service men and women exhibit to protect the freedom of United States citizens. He also spoke of the losses families suffer when a service member dies in the line of duty or is missing in action. To remind those who attended the program of all the prisoners of war and missing in action - members of families who never find closure for their losses - an empty chair draped with the black POW-MIA flag stood before the speakers' table.
Dillon said he wears his Navy hat and is always pleased when people come up to him to say they also served.
The scores of small American flags set up next to graves demonstrated that from the Civil War to the present, Bemidji area men and women have served their country patriotically.
The program featured Joe Vene leading the audience in "The Star Spangled Banner" and a welcome by American Legion Ralph Gracie Post 14 Commander Pat Hede. Post Chaplain Bob Aitken gave the invocation and Hede and Sharon Thiemeke of the Post Auxiliary laid a wreath at the cemetery flagpole in honor of fallen heroes. Aitken and Post Auxiliary Chaplain Fran Miller read a list of veterans who have died since last Memorial Day.
The American Legion Firing Squad gave a rifle salute, and Megan Rossman and Betsy Richards played Taps and an echo.
The American Legion Color Guard retired the colors from the main program area to reassemble at the Grand Army of the Republic monument on the west side of the cemetery. Marcus Wax, Boys State Representative, recited President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The firing squad produced another rifle salute and the buglers again played Taps.
Boy Scout Troops 23, 25, 80 and 82 also participated in the program.