Havre Daily News/John Kelleher
Participants in Monday's Memorial Day observances at the Hill County Courthouse lawn show their respect for the flag after a 21-gun salute was offered by the honor guard. Rain, snow and cold weather kept the size of the crowd down.
The lawn at the Hill County Courthouse Monday morning was full of American flags that had been placed there earlier in the day by volunteers.
The flags were donated by family members of deceased veterans. They had once draped the caskets of loved ones who had served in the military.
The honor guard stood at attention and the command was given to sound the 21-gun salute for those who had died in service to their country.
The smaller-than-usual crowd watched solemnly as rain and snow fell on the chilly courthouse lawn.
It's a Havre tradition. The Memorial Day services are quiet, solemn and meaningful. But the bad weather took its toll.
The usual speeches, wreath layings and memorials were moved inside to the Elks Club because of the snow.
Once in the Elks Club, the speakers and the crowd reflected on the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Members of the American Legion and its auxiliary, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Elks Club came forth from the rear of the room to lay wreaths in honor of deceased veterans.
One of the most solemn parts of the ceremony came when the lights were dimmed and Marlyn Damson of the American Legion Auxiliary explained the meaning of a single-setting table at the front of the room. It honored prisoners of war and those missing in action.
She said it is impossible to know how many people are being held by governments in foreign countries.
She asked the crowd to be "ever mindful of peace tainted by the bitterness of sacrifice."
"Let us remember and never forget their sacrifice," she said.
Master of ceremonies Jed Damson of the American Legion paid special tribute to the Rosie the Riveters in the audience. The auxiliary honored the women who worked in factories, building ships and ammunition for World War II.
As Elks members presented the colors, former exalted ruler Robert Nieuwenhuyse explained the history and traditions of the flag and the Elks Club's support of it.
The freedoms represented by the flag "have been purchased by each succeeding generation and must be purchased in the future by each succeeding generation."
The Elks Club believes that the nation was formed under God's guidance, he said. Thus, Elks strongly opposed any effort to strike the phrase "one nation under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.
His comments drew the biggest applause of the day.
Kristi Parrotte of Havre, Mrs. Montana 2012, asked the veterans to believe in themselves, and advised the general public to stop veterans on the street "and say two words — thank you."
Pastor John Chapman of Havre's First Baptist Church, the keynote speaker, drew some chuckles when he recalled that his grandfather served in the Army and his mother and father served in the Army.
"So I raised some eyebrows when I decided to join the Navy."
To many, he said, Memorial Day "conjured up the idea of a three-day holiday."
But he said he has performed 33 burials at sea and presided at funerals for countless other veterans. This gives him a totally different perspective on Memorial Day, he said.
"So, before we light up the barbecue or lift a drink in cheer, let us thank those who fought that we might be free," he asked the crowd.