Each night at Mount Rushmore National Monument throughout the summer, a ceremony is held when lowering the flag. Since 9/11, the ceremony at Mount Rushmore has culminated with the ranger asking all former and current military to participate.
For Carlton Leikvold of Wakonda, a World War II Navy veteran, the ceremony has been one he has participated in each summer during his familys annual gathering in the Black Hills. However, this summer it meant more. This year, Carlton was escorted by his grandson Christopher, a United States Marine currently stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.
It was an honor, when grandpa and I had the honor for the first time to retire the colors at Mt. Rushmore together, Christopher Leikvold said in a phone interview with the Press and Dakotan. It was just incredible. I cant describe the feeling. The ability of a World War II vet and someone who has served one tour in Afghanistan to go up together, for me it was a symbol that the old and the new are still connected and it will always be that way.
Christopher, who has been in the Marines for three years, credits his grandfather for guiding his decision to join the military.
He did influence me to join the military, in how he holds himself, Christopher said. He holds himself to a much higher standard than anyone else does today, and that is something I want to continue from where he left off.
For Carltons son and Christophers father, Kurt, seeing the two together at the ceremony is something he said he would never forget.
The thing that I didnt get in pictures was when the two of them were walking back to their seats, he explained. Dad puts his hands on Christophers shoulder and says how much of an honor it was to do this together. That was a moment I didnt capture on film but was the best moment of the night for me. We are very proud of both of them.
Planning for the night began in a ritual that started more than 12 years ago for the family.
Our family started a tradition of meeting together in the Black Hills together, Kurt said. It just became a mini-family reunion type thing. Every year, we go out there we go to the lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore. It is the highlight of our trip.
Every year my father has gone down because he is a World War II veteran he served in the Navy. So he would go forward. The last few years, either my brother or I would walk down with him because he is in his mid-80s. In the back of our minds, we thought how wonderful it would be for him to go down with his grandson, who is currently serving in the Marines.
So the family started planning. Kurt contacted Christopher, who was serving in Afghanistan at the time, to see if it would be possible for him to return to South Dakota this summer. The event came together, and even the weather cooperated.
There were storms all around that night and it looked like the ceremony might be in danger of being canceled, Kurt said. But it was just like the clouds split and went around us. When we left, the roads and the parking lot were all wet from rain, but at the amphitheater it did not rain at all.
Christopher said that anyone who has served the nation in the military is asked to participate in the ceremony.
As we leave the stage, every single person gets to touch the flag that flew, symbolizing that there is still that bond and connection and that you did serve the county no matter what it took, Christopher said. Regardless of how they served, they did something that only 1 percent of the population of the United States has done. That is a huge honor. Being able to just sit there and touch that flag knowing what it represents, knowing who all has died and who all has fought for everything that our country stands for today is unreal.
I remember reading a bumper sticker right before I joined that said, It couldnt always be somebody elses son or daughter, Christopher said. Somebody has to step up, regardless of what you think and how you feel. … We dont do what we do for the recognition or the respect. We do it because it is something that needs to be done.
Christopher said the thing he will never forget from the flag ceremony is his grandfathers eyes and the pride he saw in them.
I know that night when it came to be, when we had the chance to go down, his eyes just lit up, he said. I know that is something we will both remember until the day we die.