True valor; Citizens honor veterans; dedicate county memorial U.S. Army Master Sgt. Stan Miller, at right, salutes as other members of The University of South Dakota ROTC Company raise the American flag during dedication ceremonies on a snowy Saturday morning at the Clay County Veterans Memorial, located on the grounds of the Clay County Courthouse. by David Lias It was anything but peaceful in Vermillion at 11 a.m. Saturday.
People who gathered at the Clay County Courthouse for the dedication ceremony of the new Clay County Veterans Memorial huddled against a biting wind.
Huge white snowflakes fell and swirled from gray clouds as citizens gathered at the memorial at precisely 11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11 to pay customary tribute to the nation's veterans.
People left the warmth of the courthouse and gathered in a wide circle on the northwestern corner of the memorial.
Master of ceremonies Dave Wherry introduced Rev. Wilbur Tiahart, and everyone bowed their snow-topped heads as he offered an invocation.
The snow was relentless. It blew in people's faces, covered people's coats and hats, and made the footing treacherous.
Saturday's scene of typical South Dakota winter misery was soon broken, however, by a solemn four-person ROTC company from The University of South Dakota.
They marched to the large pole in the center of the memorial, and carefully unfolded an American flag.
The banner's distinctive colors burst from the fabric in sharp contrast to the gray clouds and heavy white snowfall.
And the wind, so often a curse during a winter storm, grabbed the flag and gloriously unfurled it as it was raised to the top of the pole.
Members of the local V.F.W. Post #3061 added more color to the wintry scene by raising the service flags of the U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force on five smaller poles that stand in a diagonal line on the memorial's eastern edge.
Vermillion Boy Scout Andy Knutson led the crowd in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. People then quietly entered the courthouse and filed down the steps into a basement meeting room to get out of the cold and listen to a Veterans Day message from Mayor William Radigan.
It all began with Mockler
One of the people who played a crucial role in the development of the Clay County Veterans Memorial, Radigan noted, couldn't help celebrate its completion.
The late Kenneth Mockler of Vermillion was so patriotic that he erected three stone monuments at his home to
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create his own veterans memorial.
His monuments were donated to the city after his death in 1995. This summer, a crew made up largely of volunteer laborers poured the sidewalks and patio flooring of the county memorial, and placed Mockler's three monuments and the veterans monument from Prentis Park on the courthouse grounds.
The memorials and flagpoles are complemented by sandstone benches that match the masonry of the courthouse, and decorative plants and shrubbery.
Clay County will maintain the grounds and the city of Vermillion will provide electricity and maintain the lighting for the memorial.
"I knew Ken as a little boy," Radigan, who is a veteran of World War II, said as he talked about Mockler. "I came home on a furlough when I was in the military, and his folks had my wife and I out for a delicious evening meal.
"Ken was there, and he was so enthusiastic about military service," Radigan added. "Little did he know that five short years later, he would be called upon to serve in Korea."
Mockler, he said, was the catalyst that helped bring citizens together Saturday to celebrate not only Veterans Day but also to dedicate the new memorial.
Freedom remains vibrant
Saturday's ceremony, Radigan said, is an example of the rich heritage of the nation's founding fathers at work.
"Before they signed the Declaration of Independence, patriots decided that there were two things that were very important to them, and number one was freedom," he said. "These people had a driving force in their hearts that they were going to be free. Freedom meant more to them than life."
Americans still value freedom so much that they will pay any price, even their lives, to insure that the nation remains intact.
In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson named Nov. 11 Armistice Day in honor of the truce that ended World War I a year earlier.
Congress made Armistice Day a federal holiday in 1938, and in 1954, it changed the name of the observance to Veterans Day in honor of all U.S. soldiers of any war.
"I am so grateful, being a second generation Irish immigrant, that there is a country where people from all over the world can come and experience that God-given feeling of freedom," Radigan said.
A matter of time
Radigan said that after freedom, the second most valuable gift that Americans possess is time.
The flags that fly at the county veterans memorial, he said, recognize the time that veterans have given to the country to bring forth freedom, justice and righteousness.
The memorial's purpose, Radigan said, is to recognize veterans of the past, present and future.
Citizens need to remember the sacrifices made by the men and women of the U.S. military, he added, during not only times of war, but also times of peace.
American servicemen and servicewomen, scattered all over the globe, become disconnected with their friends and family, he said. Some miss important family times, such as weddings and funerals. Long separations may spell the end of romantic relationships.
"All of this is based on time," Radigan said. "When you take days, months or years out of a person's life, they have given you a very, very valuable asset."
Radigan said he hopes that the new Clay County Veterans Memorial reminds citizens to honor the nation's military, and also never forget the horrors of war.
"War is nothing but nasty, mean, dirty, and absolutely at times almost impossible for humans to carry out," he said. "If that monument out there could possibly perform a miracle, and bring forth a young man or a young woman to find the answer to why we fight these terrible wars, I would be forever amazed and grateful."