Sacrifices for freedom remembered on Monday

Sacrifices for freedom remembered on Monday
VFW Commander Andy Howe noticed a pleasant change taking place at Monday's Memorial Day service, held at the Clay County Veterans' Memorial on the grounds of the Clay County Courthouse in Vermillion.

"It used to be older veterans talking to older veterans at these events," he said at the beginning of Monday's program. "Now I see all ages – from older all the way down to little kids, and everything in between, and I sure appreciate that."

It was fitting, then, that the speaker for Monday's program represents the involvement of a new, younger generation of leadership in the local VFW post.

After 18 years, Leonard Bottolfson decided it was time for him to step down as VFW quartermaster.

Howe has taken over Bottolfson's old role, and the local VFW unanimously elected Mike Mehlbrech, a veteran of service in Iraq and one of the younger members of the local post, to take over as commander.

Mehlbrech thanked the crowd of people who participated in Monday's service for simply remembering the sacrifices made by others to ensure the nation's freedom.

"That's what the day is all about – remembering," he said.

Mehlbrech was activated for service in Iraq not long after he and his wife were married.

"It was quite a shock to us," he said. "I ended up leaving in January 2004, and what an interesting experience, to have that young relationship that has really grown since then."

Mehlbrech said while he was overseas, he often wondered about all the people back at home in the United States who left to constantly think about the soldiers they loved who were now in the Middle East, possibly headed towards harm's way.

"It was something I was living every day," Mehlbrech said. "And I knew on the day that I came back to the United States, I, too, would be possibly thinking about those soldiers."

He has now been home two years since his service in Iraq. Today, he has a brother-in-law who is serving in Afghanistan.

"I can understand that back here, life has to go on, and it does go on," he said. "It's hard to focus every day on the soldiers who are serving overseas.

"But part of what makes our country great is that we do remember," Mehlbrech said. "We don't forget. All of these countries that get torn apart at the seams – I don't think they take time to remember how valuable life is, and how valuable the life of a soldier is, and what a sacrifice that is when we do decide that it needs to be given up to protect all of our freedoms."

Mehlbrech said it is important for everyone to know that it is the duty of every soldier to never leave another soldier behind.

"I think it is the duty of our nation to never let a fallen soldier be forgotten," he said. "Thank you very much for remembering today."

Following Mehlbrech's speech, Bottolfson read a list of names of Clay County veterans who have died in combat. From World War I through the Vietnam War, the county suffered 70 casualties of war.

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