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Fallen honored at Memorial Day services

 

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At 88, Chester Stewart lives an active life.

He lives west of Havre six months a year, and spends six months traveling with his wife, Alva. Last year they went to Arizona, this year they will visit Alva's family in Florida.

But in all their activity, the Stewarts are always sure they take time out to attend the annual Memorial Day ceremonies at the Hill County Courthouse.

They were some of the first on hand for Monday's services.

"This is very important, very important," Chester Stewart said.

He entered the U.S. Army Air Corps., later the Air Force, when he was 18 to take part in World War II. He retired more than 20 years later.

Service is a tradition in his family.

Alva's grandson is in the Army and will be deployed to Afghanistan shortly.

She's worried, but adds, "somebody's got to do it."

Chester Stewart said it is vital that people remember those who died in all of America's wars, but he admits being afraid that services such as the one held Monday may not always be held.

Most of the people running Monday's ceremonies are older, he said.

"I'm afraid that in 10 years, things will be different," he said. "I'm afraid they won't be having these. I hope I'm wrong."

Seated next to the Stewarts on 3rd Avenue was Willard Langlois, who is turning 88. The ceremonies had special meaning to Langlois, a World War II Navy veteran.

His older brother, a World War II Army vet, died from complications of a stroke.

"My mother was always so proud," he recalled. "She had a son in each service."

The veterans watched as the Montana Army National Guard lowered the flag to half-staff, as is traditional on Memorial Day.

They stood with their hands over their hearts as Choral Fusion sang the national anthem.

They bowed their heads as Pastor Brad Ulgenes of the First Lutheran Church of Havre asked during the invocation that "we may never forget what they have done."

"God bless America, God bless the world and give us peace," he prayed.

Members of veterans groups, the auxiliaries and the Elks Club walked through a pathway l ined wi t h American flags and laid wreaths in honor of their members who had died over the last year.

Since 1999, it was announced, the veterans honor guard has taken part in 310 veteran funerals. Twenty-seven members of the honor guard had themselves died during that period.

Proceedings then moved to the Vets Club, where the audience was moved by a Choral Fusion piece "Will You Remember," written by Angela Pratt when the traveling Vietnam Wall visited the Wyoming town she was living in several years ago.

She received a standing ovation.

The guest speaker, Staff Sgt. Shane Smart of the Montana Army National Guard in Anaconda, reminded the crowd that millions of Americans have been affected the loss of relatives or friends in war. They may be dead, but their spirit remains as long as they are remembered, he said.

"As long as we keep them in our thoughts, they are not gone," he said.

He recalled being a pall bearer for many veterans over the last 20 years he has been in the military.

"It is an honor. Everyone who has ever done it will tell you the same thing," he said.

Choral Fusion sang "America the Beautiful," and the service songs were sung as vets of the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Marines were called to stand so they could be honored.

 
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