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Protecting our freedom: Laporte gathers to honor fallen soldiers, veterans

The Anderson-Black American Legion Post 462 leads a procession of active soldiers and veterans at Lakeport Cemetery Monday to begin the second of three Memorial Day services in the Laporte area. Music, stories and prayer filled the holiday morning as many community members shared their military stories and experiences with one another. — Trent Opstedahl | Bemidji Pioneer

LAPORTE — More than half the community here gathered Monday to honor past and present U.S. soldiers on Memorial day.

With a memorial service at the Laporte Public school gymnasium, an observance at Lakeport Cemetery and a veteran luncheon at Trinity Lutheran Church, remembering the sacrifices made by those in the military was a common thought for many.

“Today (Memorial Day) isn’t about the barbecues, the beaches and the races. It’s about the promise Lincoln made to our country years ago,” said Jim Smith, guest speaker at the Laporte Public School memorial service. Smith is a member of the Anderson-Black American Legion Post 462. “We owe it to our fallen heroes and veterans to make sure their sacrifices and services made are not forgotten.”

Joanne Pickar, of the Laporte Legion Auxiliary, added to Smith’s message by describing what she believes a veteran to be.

“A veteran is someone who at some point in their life wrote a blank check to the U.S. government for an amount that can total the value of their own life. All that to protect our freedoms,” Pickar said. “Willing to die for others to live — that’s what being a veteran is all about.”

Among the tributes presented to honor fallen soldiers and veterans were two handmade wreaths constructed by women from the Anderson-Black Post.

The wreaths, created from pine branches, flowers and ribbon, were placed in two different locations in the area. The first wreath was tossed into Garfield Lake and the second was hung on a WWII cross memorial at Lakeport Cemetery. The memorial, which is located in the center of the cemetery, commemorates three local fallen soldiers who served overseas during WWII.

“We honor those who have given their lives to protect this country,” Rev. David Smith said during the cemetery service preceding the wreath hanging.

Former army military technician Bob Cotant was among those present at the observances. He said Memorial Day is important because so many have forgotten the true meaning behind the holiday.

“Some people do understand the meaning of today, but I feel like the younger people of today don’t take it as seriously as they should,” Cotant said. “They (younger generations) just don’t get involved.”

Cotant, who served in the U.S. Army for nine years, said people need to remember the veterans who might not have made the ultimate sacrifice, but still gave up so much.

“We’ve got a lot of wounded and hurt soldiers coming back to us,” said Cotant, who served his nine-year term in New Mexico. “We need to take care of them.”

Marking the end of the tribute to fallen soldiers at Lakeview Cemetery, members of the Anderson-Black Post presented a three round gun salute, followed by the sounding of taps.

One of two taps performers, Davonna Lecy has been playing the trumpet since ninth-grade.

Before beginning the tune to taps, Lecy said she dedicated it to her grandfather, who served in WWII. “It’s very nice to remember and play for them (veterans and fallen soldiers) on a day like today,” Lecy said.

Jackson Booth, the second trumpeter who performed taps at area events, is in the ninth-grade. Both Booth and Lecy are members of the Laporte Community Band.

Beginning her day at 6 a.m., Maria Patton said she and other members of the Laporte-Benedict Lions Club began preparations to serve their annual Memorial Day lunch to honor veterans.

“We started this event five or six years ago to show our support for area veterans,” Patton said, adding the event has grown from a small picnic to a community gathering.

Serving more than 150 people and 42 veterans, Patton said the goal was to raise nearly $400, which would be enough to sponsor a campership at Project New Hope, the club’s designated beneficiary.

A military family retreat center, Project New Hope helps combat veterans and their family transition into post-tour life.

“Our (club’s) motto is to support others, and that’s what we’re doing here today for our veterans,” Patton said.

 Story by Trent Opstedahl