By Jared Ritz/Havre Daily News
Dozens of American flags flew strongly on the courthouse lawn Monday morning as part of Havre's annual Memorial Day event. The service was in memory of those local soldiers from wars past and present who put their lives at risk for their country.
"The freedoms we have, we have because of these veterans," said Jim Matter, local VFW post commander and member of the United Veterans Council, which sponsors the event.
Matter wasn't sure exactly how long the event has been taking place each Memorial Day, but said he thinks it dates back to the 1950s. The Council is comprised of members from the local VFW, American Legion, and Disabled American Veterans Auxiliaries, and this group plans both the Memorial Day celebration and Veteran's Day festivities.
This year's ceremony involved reading a lengthy list of names of all those veterans who have died in the past year, as well as presenting wreaths in their honor.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said he thinks this event is important for Havre to show appreciation and to remember.
"It's just a memory thing for the community," the 20 year VFW member said. "Kind of an appreciation of those who have given their lives for this country. It's a time to reflect, and look at where we're going and where we've been."
Also honored at the event were those veterans of the Canadian armed forces who have died. Members of Canadian Veterans groups came to Havre for the event and presented wreaths in honor of their fallen friends, and next weekend some local members will make the trip to Alberta.
After all the wreaths were laid for both groups, balloons were released into the sky in honor of those who have passed, and seven rifles were fired into the air in unison three times for the 21-gun salute.
Both Rice and Matter said they think this Memorial Day has a little more importance in light of the United States' war with Iraq. The war has turned this Memorial Day from purely a day of remembrance, to a day for us to appreciate what has and is being done to protect freedoms, Matter said.
"It made people wake up to what the military is all about; making us free and giving us the freedoms we have."
Joe Ross, the emcee of the event, started the ceremony with a story about a speech he heard some years ago at a Vietnam memorial rally in Washington, D.C. The speaker began by listing the five reasons she thought the people of the United States enjoy the freedoms that the do: the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The speaker was only 14 years old.
"It moved me a lot," Ross said, "that a 14-year-old could have thoughts like that and believe so much."
Ross ended the ceremony with a speech explaining why he thinks this year, just like each year past, the sidewalks surrounding the county building are lined with onlookers for the Memorial Day event.
"More than a million American service members died in the wars and conflicts this nation fought since the first colonial soldiers took up arms," he said. "Each one was a loss to the community they lived in and their nation. We in this country owe a great debt of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives so that we could live free. We can start to pay that debt by not forgetting, by remembering what they did and what they stood for."