This post is a personal reflection by Jason Wagner.
For many, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer and all it has to offer. Summer is a very special time of year for Minnesotans. It is a time when many of us take advantage of the outdoors, occasionally shorter work days, and family gatherings. Although this summer has had some blisteringly hot days already, it is a brief reprieve from the winters that harden us into industrious and productive citizens in this part of the world. For me, summer is also about tradition.
Every year there are summer activities and community events that we participate in as a family. For instance, we never miss the parade in Elgin (the candy was melting in the street this year!) or the corn on the cob feed in Plainview. I’m sure we’ll visit the Olmsted County Fair again this year so my kids can get a chance to visit the Miracle of Birth Center and witness from a safe distance what I experienced in a much more tactile way growing up on the farm. But the summer tradition that I appreciate the most is the Memorial Day Observance ceremony.
We always attend the Memorial Day Observance ceremony held in Hammond at St. Clement Cemetery. Every year, locals and relatives from farther away gather in this small village in the Zumbro River valley quietly making small talk as we wait for the veterans from the Zumbro Falls VFW to begin the ceremony. When they arrive, everyone stands facing the flag as the servicemembers in union march toward one of the gravesites of a fallen service member with the ladies of the VFW Auxillary following behind with their straw hats and handheld flags. In this quiet river valley, we are all suspended together in a moment of silence, surrounded by the newly-lush green trees and water flowing below as we say a prayer and remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. There are no political divisions or blustery outrages – only reverence for the lives lost and gratitude for those that serve and have served.
The honor guard fires the volleys and taps rises in the air as the short ceremony comes to its conclusion. All the children present quickly rush to collect a spent shell, and I encourage my three-year-old daughter, June, to find one. Though she has no such luck, a nice young boy gives her one of his extras. They don’t know it, but his great grandparents are also June’s great-great grandparents. This is what makes this Memorial Day Observance such a meaningful tradition for me – many of my relatives are in Hammond on this day to pay respects to my great uncle that died in the Vietnam War at the age of 19. To others present, he is a brother, an uncle, and a great-great uncle. Though as we become more distant relatives with each generation (I think June and the young boy would be 4th cousins), each of us can trace our heritage back to the first Wagner to immigrate to the United States in this very cemetery. In fact, every generation of direct ancestors in the Wagner line to have lived in America is buried at St. Clements. This is a history that dates back to before the Civil War and is emblematic of the generations protected by veterans in wars past.
I’m proud of where I come from and to be in this community that together honors those that sacrificed so much to protect the precious freedoms and blessings we have in this country. To be able to share this moment of tribute among so many generations of my family, for me, makes it all the more meaningful and all the more important that these sacrifices be remembered.