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Memorial Day commemorated at Greenwood Cemetery

Among graves decorated with flowers and flags, patriotic area residents joined in the prayers and songs commemorating deceased veterans.

After the Ralph Gracie American Legion Post 14 Color Guard posted the colors on Monday, Memorial Day, at Greenwood Cemetery, Joe Vene led the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Past Post Commander Andy Staudt welcomed the large gathering and Steve Modich read an invocation.

Bonnie Lurken, Ralph Gracie Post 14 of the American Legion Auxiliary president, thanked all veterans for keeping America safe and asked for prayers for the soldiers now serving their country.

She told of an experience she had selling poppies outside the Bemidji Post Office. She offered a flower to a man, who declined, saying he had no money. She told him he could wear the flower anyway. His response was, "I don't have any money, but I have a hug."

She said he gave her and her companion hugs, then turned to another man entering the building. He asked if he wanted a hug, too, The answer was, "Yes."

"Today, I ask all of you to give somebody a hug," Lurken said.

The main speaker was Bob Rawson, Sixth District Legion membership director. He noted that Veterans Day honors all who have served and are currently serving in the military. However, Memorial Day honors veterans who have died.

"I, as well as my fellow veterans, salute those who are no longer able to answer the roll call," he said.

He told stories about several soldiers who died in service and the families who honor their memories. The Department of Defense announced today the death of a sailor who was supporting the current war, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The stories included two soldiers who gave their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom: Marine Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr, 22, of Snohomish, Wash., who died March 30, 2005, from small-arms fire while conducting combat operations against enemy forces near Ar Ramadi, Iraq, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis L. Youngblood, 26, of Surrency, Ga., who died July 21, 2005, of wounds from an improvised explosive device during combat operations in Hit, Iraq.

Rawson said Youngblood's young son, Hunter, comforts himself and his mother by saying his father is a hero and an angel.

Rawson also recalled his own uncle, Wilfred Wagner, who died during World War II and is buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy, France.

"Each of us faces this day with our own memories we hold dear," Rawson said. "You are all heroes, and you are all angels."

Staudt and Lurken read the names of recently deceased veterans. Jim Daugherty played "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes as the Legion members fired a salute. Jessie Fisher played "Taps" and Kevin Trappe played the echo. Boy Scouts from Troops 23, 25, 80 and 82 also assisted with the program.

Following the program, the group walked to the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial on the west side of Greenwood Cemetery. There, Evan Parrott, Boys State representative from Bemidji, recited Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

A final rifle salute and "Taps" closed the ceremony.