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Wilmont native speaks at Memorial Day event

justine wettschreck/Daily Globe Lincoln Balster, 3, of Prior Lake, salutes the combat boots, helmet and rifle of a serviceman under the watchful eye of his father, Wilmont native Randy Balster, during the Wilmont Memorial Day celebration Monday at the Calvary Cemetery.

WILMONT -- Flags snapped in the breeze, childish laughter rang out and the murmur of voices buzzed across Calvary Cemetery in Wilmont Monday morning as a crowd of people wandered the burial ground visiting gravesites and acknowledging the headstones marked with flags and the words that identified the deceased as a veteran.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Pachol-Moser Post 2603 and Auxiliary headed up the Memorial Day service in Wilmont, paying homage to the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces and the sacrifices they and their families made for the United States. Guest speaker for the event was VFW Senior-Vice Commander Lee Ulferts, who will be installed in June as the VFW Commander in Minnesota.

He currently lives in Brooklyn Park, where he manages the Palmer Lake VFW. He is the father of four children and grandfather to six.

Getting Ulferts as speaker was due to the "conniving" efforts of his cousin's husband, he joked, but he was honored and pleased to be a part of the ceremony.

"It really strikes me, the number of flags in this cemetery," he said before the event began. "That is what Minnesota is all about -- the sense of patriotism and honor. I love these guys, and the bond between veterans in like no other."

Ulferts, who graduated from Fulda High School in 1964, grew up on a farm near Wilmont and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1968, serving as a rifleman in Vietnam.

"The country we came home to was a bitter, angry country," he said.

After the color guard came forward, a brief history of Memorial Day was read, citing the 1868 proclamation by U.S. Commander-in-Chief John Logan naming May 30 of each year as a day of remembrance. It was followed by a reading of John McCrae's "Flanders Field."

"That always touches me," Ulferts said as he came forward to speak.

During his upbringing in rural Minnesota, Ulferts said he learned many lessons about true patriotism and duty to country and flag. He learned the meaning of the words honor and commitment, and used to look on the men who served in color guards as something special -- men who shared a camaraderie he did not.

"After serving in Vietnam in a combat zone, I have a bond with all of the men and women here standing behind me," he said, gesturing to the color guard.

We live in the greatest country in the world, Ulferts said, with men and women that are willing to leave it behind in order to defend their country. These people have made sacrifices like no other, he said, which have caused wounds inside that can't be shared. Sometimes in sleep, these soldiers and sailors relive a time they never wanted to see again.

"It is right and fitting we honor them today...," Ulferts said. "On ground that was consecrated by blood, sweat and sacrifice. This is holy ground."

"In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields."