Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Hi-Line Living: Honoring the fallen on Memorial Day


Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

Military veterans, their loved ones and community members gathered for several events in Havre on a Monday that comes only once a year: Memorial Day.

The events began with a Memorial Day commemoration held outside the Hill County Courthouse. The ceremony consisted of a presentation of the colors by Boy Scouts, Dena Rudio sang the national anthem; wreaths honoring the fallen were laid and the Honor Guard performed a three-volley salute.

Later, everyone was invited to the Havre Elks Lodge for a community ceremony to honor the fallen and a chili and cornbread lunch.    

Joe Baranyai. who wears his military service on his black leather vest in the form of patches, medals and pins, was among the people crowded into the lodge.

When he was 18, Baranyai was deployed to Vietnam and was stationed there from 1968 to 1969. Feb 2, 1968, sticks out to him though, he said, it was the day he made his first kill, something he said changed his life forever.

"Let's just say I lost my teenage years," he said after listening to a series of speakers and ceremonies by the Elks, American Legion Post 11 and others.

Baranyai said he was a different person when he returned from the war. He made many friends whom he served alongside, but 26 of them died in Vietnam, he said. He added that, after a while, he stopped making friends because whenever he did they "would soon be gone."

But Baranyai still has nightmares about that day when he made his first kill and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Baranyai said he thinks about and prays every day for the men he served with who died and that is why he wears his leather vest.

Memorial Day can be very emotional for some veterans, former Exalted Ruler of the Havre Elks Club Bob Nieuwenhuyse said.

"Memorial Day is a day that is set aside to recognize the sacrifice that was made by service men and women," he said.

Nieuwenhuyse said many veterans who have been in battle have what is known as survivors' syndrome, and events like the community gathering can serve as a form of healing,

"The price of liberty is eternal vigilance," Nieuwenhuyse said. "What was won at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, had to be repurchased in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and now the ongoing battles in the Middle East."

Les Johnson, commandant of American Legion Post 11, read a letter out loud from the Legion, which spoke about the sacrifice made not just by the fallen and people in uniform but their loved ones.

"A mother's pain. One of the most painful scars of war is not on the veteran but the people who love that veteran," Johnson said.

He read the final stanza of "Rain on Your Old Tin Hat," a poem by Lt. John Hunter Wickersham, a 28-year-old in the 353rd Infantry stationed in France during World War I, which talked about a mother's anguish during war.

"And fellow, she's the hero of this big ugly war,

and her prayers are on the wind across the flag.

And don't you reckon maybe it's her tears and not the rain that is keeping up the patter on your old tin hat."

Johnson said Wickersham's poem was about the grief of a mother, but could have just as easily been about that of a wife, daughter or sister or about the anguish felt by a father, brother or husband.

Military members who are prisoners of war or missing in action were also remembered. The ceremony included a display with a small table set for one draped in a white table cloth with one lit candle.

Later in the day outside The Bridge Youth Center on Bullhook Road, three Boy Scout troops held a flag retirement ceremony.

Members of Troops 1492, 1438 and 1434, along with members of Cub Scout Pack 2246 took part in the ceremony, an event that marks the end of an Eagle Scout project by Kougar Lanier of pack 1438.

In January, Lanier had started work on six flag drop boxes either built from scratch or repurposed from decades-old boxes used to haul supplies. The boxes were placed in the region for people to drop flags off that they wanted retired.

Boxes were placed at one of six locations, the Blaine County Courthouse in Chinook, the Havre-Hill County Library, Holiday Village Mall, Anthony Cammon State Farm and Spencer's Hi Way Bar and Grill in Hingham.

Lanier said aside from the one in HIngham, the boxes will remain in their locations. He said Scouts regularly retire flags at their campouts,

In all 135 flags were dropped off, and 102 were retired Monday, Lanier said.

Lanier said the scouts are thinking of making a flag retirement ceremony open to the public an annual event.

Many of the flags were tattered and faded, however some that were left in the boxes were in fairly good shape, Lanier said. Nonetheless they were left in the box to be retied in memory of someone.

Lanier's father, Troop 1438 Committee Chair Bill Lanier, said the preferred way to retire a flag is through burning.

People have burned flags in protest, but the difference with this ceremony is that is being done in honor of people, primarily people in the military who are dead, he said.

"You burn a flag on a street corner just to burn it, well that is different, here you are actually retiring it," Lanier said.

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

As to how one goes about properly retiring a flag, Lanier said, there is not a procedure aside from the burning other than it needs to be done respectfully.

The scouts at the ceremony cradle dthe flag with two hands, pressing the folded flag up against their chest. Lanier said how the flags are folded is also a sign of respect - when a flag is properly folded a person is only supposed to see the blue. Scouts then marched to temporary fires in containers. The colors were shown and names read aloud of people, most local, who are dead and served in the military.

Observers stood silent when the flags were ignited and dropped into the firepit.

Like Memorial Day itself is for many, the retirement ceremony was a solemn occasion.


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