By: Julie Laakko-Swanson
It was a beautiful day for the solemn service held the morning of Monday, May 31st at Nashville Memorial Park. The morning was spent remembering the real reason for Monday’s holiday – not bbq’s, summer kick-offs, and sales, but recognition, remembrance, and gratitude for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. As Pastor Jeff Schwab of Okawville, who led the service in prayer, said, “Both pride and grief walk with us on our journey today.”
Many people joined the Nashville and Okawville American Legions and National Honor Guards in remembering and recognizing the veterans who have died in the line of duty. The Nashville Community High School Band, directed by Steve Browne, played several songs during the service and the Nashville Boyscout Troop 127 presented the flags.
Wayland Middendorf was the guest speaker, and gave a speech titled “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” Middendorf joined the Marines in 1960 and was honorably discharged in 1966. He later went on to become an ordained Lutheran Pastor. He recalled his early days in the Marines – his first night specifically. His recruiter brought him to a hotel in St. Louis, and his roommate was a young black man. Rather than eat what the recruiter planned to provide, the to-be Marines set out to find dinner somewhere in the city. When they entered a restaurant, Middendorf recalls the woman inside coming up to them and telling him,
“I can serve you, but I can’t serve. . .” before gesturing to Middendorf’s roommate. They explained to her that both of them were signing up to join the Marines the next day, to put their lives on the line for their country, but she did not care.
Middendorf said they ended up in an African American diner eating hamburgers, french fries, and pepsi cola.
“The irony was I was accepted into his culture, but mine would not accept him.” he said.
He went on to share how, outside of the United States, the pair could eat together wherever they wanted. When they returned, he said it felt like he had stepped back into the 19th Century when he saw a “Whites Only” sign in a diner across the street from their bus stop in Jacksonville.
“Freedom is one of those things I hear bantered about a lot these days,” he said, “But it is about MY freedom, MY rights – but freedom here in America is full of responsibility, to not infringe on others’ rights. . .Your freedom ends at the tip of my nose, and I think sometimes we forget that.”
He went on with a more recent example of the responsibility that comes with our freedom.
“During the pandemic, I was *free* not to wear a mask-” he said, “If I was irresponsible and didn’t wear a mask, I might endanger someone – that’s not using my freedom responsibly.”
“These individuals gave their lives on foreign soil for our freedom, it behoves us to use that freedom in a responsible manner. Freedom is not about ME – it’s about US. All of us.”
After his speech, the Honor Guard placed wreaths on white crosses representing every war The United States has fought in since the Civil War.
Then, the names of all veterans in the surrounding areas who lost their lives in 2019 and 2020 were read, and a bell was tolled for each name. The names from 2019 were read this year due to last year’s pandemic restrictions.
Members of the Honor Guard then folded the flag draped over the table representing the caskets of service men across the nation who have given their lives for our freedom. The folded flag was then presented to the Honor Guard Chairman, who placed it before the memorial in the park. The Honor Guard fired a musket salute, and Matt Bierman played Taps.
Before the service, after the Honor Guards set up earlier in the morning, an anonymous donor placed an envelope on the podium. It had no name, and held $55.10 and a request that it be given to the military. The anonymous donor was recognized and thanked.
The service ended with the raising of the flag from half-staff at noon, as is regulation on Memorial Day.