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Remembering those who gave allTell North Platte what you think
Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby
Firing Squad from Gothenburg
Photo by George Lauby
Kevin Johnson and Jaycee Pilkington
Photo by George Lauby
The flag at half staff
Photo by George Lauby
(click on photos to enlarge)
Photo by George Lauby
Sean Wright of North Platte pays his respects
Photo by George Lauby
Some gravestones since 2011.
Photo by George Lauby
Presenting the wreaths
Photo by George Lauby
Members of the Huntley, Barta and Nichols family came to pay respects to Edward Barta, an Army veteran of Vietnam.

Hundreds of people gathered Monday at Ft. McPherson National Shrine to pay their respects to those who died in service to our country. Norval Holtmeier prayed that we never forget to thank God for our rich and beautiful land.

“We give thanks for your favor, and ask that you deliver us from the evils of anarchy and violence,” Holtmeier said during the invocation of Memorial Day services.  

Holtmeier asked God to restore health to the wounded and inspire veterans to serve our country in new and creative ways.

Kevin Johnson, the director of Ft. McPherson, abandoned his prepared speech to speak from the heart.

“I used to think I knew what Memorial Day was about, but I didn’t,” Johnson said. “This is not a day for veterans. This day is about those who never got the chance to become veterans."

Johnson recalled a conversation he had with comrade Lonnie Parsons during a lull in combat in Iraq in 2005.

“He was 39 years old -- a 21-year veteran,” Johnson said. “He was in his second stint in Iraq. I asked him why he stayed in the military. He said, ‘I’m here for my boys – my boys at home and my boys here with me today.’”

Parsons, who was from Alabama, was killed in action in September that year.

After Johnson recalled Parsons’ ultimate sacrifice, he asked the audience to “appreciate the sacrifices of the ladies and gentlemen who gave their lives for us.”

Those who lost family members know what Memorial Day is about, Johnson said.

Featured speaker Lee Hoatson said Memorial Day comes but once a year and lasts just 24 hours.

“Once this day is gone, it is gone forever,” he said. “Let us be thoughtful today of those who are gone forever.”

Hoatson said Ft. McPherson is a fitting location as a final resting place. It is tranquil, peaceful and quiet for veterans who fought for us since the country was young.

“The markers seem to stand at attention,” he said. “It is well manicured, as though it is honored to be a sacred place."

McPherson National Cemetery was created in 1873. The remains of fallen soldiers were moved to the cemetery from throughout the frontier. Hoatson noted that Civil War veterans were buried in the cemetery – the last Civil War veteran was buried there in 1942 – not all that long ago.

Hoatson also recalled that 1,643 soldiers were still missing in action in Vietnam as of Jan. 1. He prayed for closure for their families who never give up hope their remains will be returned and buried “in a place such as this.”

“Let us remember the tyrannical regimes who have been toppled and the genocide that has been stopped because Americans are willing to sacrifice life and limb,” Hoatson said.

Jaycee Pilkington, Miss Nebraska 2013, sang the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The crowd joined in and gave Pilkington hearty rounds of applause.

“We recall their accomplishments and we pledge to keep the peace,” Holtmeier said in closing.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 5/26/2014
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