A sunny, 80-degree afternoon greeted dozens of local military personnel and their families, area residents and local and national dignitaries Monday during the city of Cottage Grove’s inaugural Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial.
Built on the grounds of the new City Hall, the memorial remembers the lives of the men and women — both in Washington County and throughout the country — who have died in combat.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., spoke to the crowd gathered at the event following his speech at Fort Snelling. Franken, a participant of USO tours to the Middle East, said he was honored to have been part of the city’s first-ever ceremony at Veterans Memorial.
“This is a day to remember all those that have served our country and it’s all about those Americans and America,” Franken said. “I’m heartened by this show of respect from this community.”
The mother of a local military police officer killed in combat five years ago said she too felt the respect and support from the community during a ceremony which honored Spc. Carlos E. Wilcox IV.
“He was just wonderful,” Charlene Wilcox said of her son, an medic who died at age 27 in Basra, Iraq.
On July 16, 2009, Carlos’ base was attacked by what his mother said was “indirect fire.” Four members of his unit were hit and three did not survive, including the Tartan High School grad.
A half-mile down the road that day was Cottage Grove resident Larry Clatt, an Army 1st sergeant in the 34th infantry regiment military band. Clatt, who knew Carlos and his unit, played “Taps” at his military funeral in Basra.
“It was a tough day and they were just kids,” Clatt remembered.
The somber afternoon also included speeches from Steve Campos, retired Air Force chief master sergeant and president of the Washington County Yellow Ribbon Network. Campos, who spent 35 years in the military, said the inaugural event at Veterans Memorial is the first time he has stayed in the area on Memorial Day.
“Usually I am at the state headquarters for the yearly ceremony so it’s nice to be able to have an event right in my own backyard,” he said.
Park High School’s Air Force JROTC presented the colors while the brass quintet and choir, directed by Thomas Storm, sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Members from the American Legion Post 98, St. Paul Park, ended their day-long tour of local cemeteries at Veterans Memorial and honored fallen military personnel with a 21-gun salute.
“I’m really overwhelmed by the support from this community, but it shouldn’t be surprising,” said Jen Peterson, Cottage Grove City Council member and member of the local Beyond the Yellow Ribbon committee. “It’s nice to be a part of something like this and it’s a chance for us to remember those lives and remember together.”