Memorial Day marked in area
WORTHINGTON -- Throughout the first holiday weekend of summer, many graduation celebrations took place, marking a rite of passage for many students. But those observances took a backseat on Monday, as area communities honored a different group of people -- their deceased citizens -- especially those who died in service to their country.
Such was the case in Round Lake, where a sign proclaiming the "Class of 2006" still hung behind the stage at the Round Lake School. But the front of the stage was decorated with wreaths and crosses, signifying the battles in which local soldiers had served.
Robert Huehn stood behind those crosses as he delivered the Memorial Day address on Monday morning, giving the day some historical context while reminding the gathered Round Lake citizens to remember soldiers who gave their lives for their country.
Huehn, the son of Clifford and Lorraine Huehn of Round Lake and a 1977 graduate of Round Lake High School, knows firsthand the sacrifices of military service. He spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a chief petty officer. He and his wife now live in Onalaska, Wis., where he's pursuing an advanced degree.
Although he was honored to be asked to speak at the annual Memorial Day program, which is sponsored by Charles Flentje Post 461 American Legion, Huehn admitted to some reluctance.
"I don't consider myself a speaker," he said after the program, "so my wife had to kick me in the pants a few times. The last time I was here to participate in this service was 29 years ago, and back then, I wasn't much concerned with duty, honor and sacrifice. So I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the subject."
Even before his retirement from the Navy, Huehn had taken college courses -- many in the area of history -- so it was natural for him to turn to that subject to find material for his speech. Much of the inspiration came from the Civil War period, since the tradition of Memorial Day dates back to that time.
Huehn explained how Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. The first observance was marked on May 30, 1868, by proclamation of General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic -- an organization of former sailors and soldiers.
Noting that more than 970,000 men -- 3 percent of the population at the time -- lost their lives during the Civil War, Huehn recited Logan's order: "The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."
He also referred to the words of President Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address -- words that were spoken at the dedication of the Gettysburg battlefield as a final resting place for the soldiers who fell there: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth."
"What Lincoln was inferring was that the men sacrificed themselves for a greater calling," Huehn said. "His words ring true today, as they did back in 1863. ... Men and women from all walks of life have sacrificed their lives" for their country.
Huehn urged those gathered to not let the meaning of Memorial Day get lost in the exhilaration of a long weekend or the jubilation of a commencement ceremony.
"Let us dedicate ourselves to remembering them and their sacrifices for all time," he said about the veterans of past and current conflicts, "that we always remember that freedom isn't free. May God bless our armed forces."