“We’re very proud, very blessed to have such a strong legacy of service in our state,” Senator Steve Daines told the crowd in front of him.
Small flags had been planted into the ground in front of each headstone at the Western Montana State Veterans Cemetery, where Daines spoke at one of 11 different Memorial Day events held in Missoula on Monday.
Along the pathway through the cemetery was an avenue of more flags, part of a senior project by Aleesha Aasved while she was a student at Hellgate High School. Starting in 2013, Aasved raised more than $5,000 to purchase the 65 flags and pay for the cost of installing fittings for them at the cemetery. The flags are put up every year for Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
“For decades our enemies have tested our strength, and we have continued to show our resolve,” Daines said.
He said that through his father, who had been a U.S. Marine, “I saw the valor and courage of the men and women who served in the armed forces.”
Following Sen. Daines, retired Army Lt. Col. Joseph Yakawich, also a former professor of military science and head of the University of Montana’s ROTC program, spoke to the crowd. He thanked Susan Campbell Reneau for her work coordinating the Memorial Day events since 1998, before reading part of the order from the 1868 order from General John Logan establishing Memorial Day, then called on the public to "wake up" to the dangers that still threaten the country, including Islamic extremism in the form of ISIL, and what he saw as assaults on the Constitution by politicians in America.
The ceremony was dedicated to fallen World War II veterans, and in particular five veterans from Montana: Martin Behner, Frank Reneau, Raynor Roberts, Sam Roberts, and Mitsuru Saimo. A member of each of those veterans families were invited to come up to the odium and carry a wreath to the base of an American Legion monument located near flags for each branch of the military.
Memorial Day ceremonies started early on Monday and went through the afternoon. The first event, held at the Clark Fork River overlook in Caras park, honored fallen members of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.
Before his opening prayer, Army Sgt. Sam Redfern, who served as the chaplain for the day's activities, told the crowd to remember to reach out to veterans in their community and make sure they know they are supported.
“This weekend is a very difficult weekend for veterans,” he said.
Representatives from the military, as well as the Missoula Fire Department threw wreaths into the river to close out the ceremony. The wreaths, part of 30 created by members of the Daughters of the American Revolution and United Veterans Council, as well as by residents of the Grizzly Peak independent living facility in Missoula, would be placed on memorials around Missoula over the course of the day.
At the base of the steps of the Missoula County Courthouse, Aaron Flint, who had completed three tours of duty as a captain in the Montana Army National Guard, addressed the crowd. The courthouse ceremony honored the fallen World War I soldiers.
Representatives from Senator Jon Tester and Congressman Ryan Zinke also read messages from the elected officials.
Speaking to the other veterans in the audience, Flint said all throughout the year, they remembers friends that they lost in combat.
“Memorial Day isn't just today for you, you probably remember several memorial days over the year,” he said.
Following the speeches, bouquets of red, white and blue flowers were laid at the base of the Doughboy Statue on the grounds of the courthouse.
Memorial Day services have been an annual tradition in Missoula since 1928, statue was dedicated. The 11 different ceremonies held in town on Monday were the most held in any single city in the country.
Other ceremonies were held at Fort Missoula Post Cemetery, Sunset Memorial Gardens, Missoula City Cemetery, St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, St. Mary’s Catholic Annex Cemetery, the Fallen Soldier Memorial at UM, and two ceremonies at Rose Memorial Garden Park.
As the crowd began to disperse and leave the Western Montana State Veterans Cemetery following the speech by Sen. Daines, Mary Tripp and her husband Darvel walked in through the gates, each carrying a glass vase of flowers.
“We waited until after the ceremony was over because we didn’t want to have the crowds,” Tripp said.
The couple’s first stop was at the chalk white headstone of Phillip Hege, Mary’s stepfather. There she set down the first vase, partially obscuring the date of the Army man’s death in 2011.
“We went out to get wildflowers for him,” she said.
The other vase was set at the base of the memorial for Tripp’s brother, Jesse Brewer, a U.S. Marine who died in 2009. She said she grew up in a family of 10 children, six brothers and three sisters.
“Yeah, we miss him. He was a good guy,” she said.