City hosts Memorial Day ceremony at City Hall

Posted 6/8/22

Meeting May 30 at City Hall, Cottage Grove residents and council members took time to remember the sacrifices made by those who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and its many different branches. The …

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City hosts Memorial Day ceremony at City Hall


Meeting May 30 at City Hall, Cottage Grove residents and council members took time to remember the sacrifices made by those who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and its many different branches. The presentation of colors was made by Mississippi River Valley Beyond the Yellow Ribbon vice president Pat Nichol and Cottage Grove Police Officer Ed Weber, Weber having reached the rank of corporal in the Marine Corps.

Following the presentation of colors and a moment of silence, Mayor Myron Bailey led those assembled in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Megan Polos then sang the Star-Spangled Banner with instrumental accompaniment by the Park High School band. Megan’s husband John was noted to be serving with the 934th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve by council member and event organizer Steve Dennis, who then took time to acknowledge several dignitaries and council members, leading things out from there.

“We’re here today to recognize Memorial Day,” he said May 30. “And to do so I would like to provide a little bit of meaning on the day itself.”

Dennis shared that since the start of Memorial Day after the Civil War, “cities across the nation have gathered on Memorial Day to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in serving our nation.” And while the day may be regarded as the unofficial start of summer in the U.S., Dennis said that “all Americans should take a moment to remember the sacrifice of our valiant military service members, first responders, and their families.”

Then sharing how Civil War soldiers had come from towns across the country, Dennis said that Abraham Lincoln’s message from nearly 150 years ago “can still inspire us.”

Then quoting Lincoln that those who fell at Gettysburg and elsewhere “shall not have died in vain,” Dennis closed the quote out with Lincoln’s renewed resolve and desire for a new birth of liberty in the United States.

“This then is the mission of Memorial Day,” Dennis said, “to reach out in support of all the soldiers and their families who have sacrificed so much for us.”

Dennis then listed a series of wars that together have taken over one million American lives, the Civil War itself taking 600,000.

“These are in order,” he said of the following conflicts: • American Revolution (1776 – 1781)

• The Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848)

• Spanish-American War (April to December 1898)

• World War I (U.S. involvement from 1917)

• World War II (1939 1946)

• Korea (1950 – 1953)

• Vietnam (ended 1975)

• Desert Storm (1990 1991)

• Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003 – 2011), and

• Afghanistan (2001 – 2021) CEREMONY


Turning things over next to Hope Community pastor and police chaplain Mark Wiggins, time was made for a brief prayer.

Then returning to the podium to introduce U.S. Representative Angie Craig, Dennis gave a short summary of Representative Craig’s accomplishments.

“Angie’s work on veteran’s issues in her first term have been meaningful and important,” he said. Ticking off a number of bills that Representative Craig had helped, including the “Honoring Our Pact Act,” two bills to strengthen veteran’s benefits, and improvements in healthcare, including mental health. Dennis said Craig had also worked on rural veteran’s issues as well. With that, he handed the podium over.

“Today on Memorial Day we honor our veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Craig said. “We also honor those Gold Star families who were left behind to build a life without their loved one as a result of that sacrifice.” Craig said that said that she had family in World War II and two uncles in Vietnam.

“One of my uncles was riddled with cancer by the age of 49,” she said as an example of what war could still do once off the battlefield. Craig has worked on extra benefits for those exposed to Agent Orange. “One of my greatest hopes is that we take as good care of our veterans when they come home as we do when they are in service to our military,” she said, saying it was a personal mission of hers to address veterans suicide. Calling on those present to recommit to building their communities and helping their neighbor, Craig said they all shared the honor of being Americans.

“Let us work together and show ourselves worthy of our sacrifices,” she said. Dennis took the podium, presenting Craig with two medallion coins, one for the city and another for police and fire.

Next going to a rose placing ceremony, one for each of the five branches, Dennis pointed out two empty chairs, which he said stood for those missing in action or a prisoner of war.

“You are not forgotten,” he said. The song “Amazing Grace” was played on bagpipes by Washington County Deputy Russ Fox, with Dennis then calling for a moment of silence for those lost, followed by “America the Beautiful,” sung by Megan Polos. Council member Dennis then introduced keynote speaker Trista MatasCastillo, a wife, mother, veteran, and advocate.

“Good afternoon fellow veterans, Congresswoman Craig, Mayor Bailey, Commissioner Johnson, Senator Bigham, Representatives Jurgens and Franke, Sheriff Starley, ,and particularly Gold Star families who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “Thank you to Council member Steve Dennis for organizing this event and inviting me to be a part of it.”

Saying that the Memorial Day event in Cottage Grove had an amazing reputation of being the best around, MatasCastillo said that the day seemed especially somber with recent tragedies.

“Today as a veteran I can’t help but stop and mourn the lives of the children in Texas,” she said of Uvalde. “The loss of their lives will take a permanent toll on their families and their potential will never be realized. This is precisely the kind of tragedy that we serve to prevent,” she said. “Both foreign and domestic.” Then looking to improve the understanding of those present on the totality of veteran experience including that of women, MatasCastillo gave a brief summary.

“Long before women had the right to vote or own property, before America even existed, women were risking their lives, even dressing up as men so they would be allowed to serve,” she said. “And it’s never been an easy path. Having served in three branches I know how difficult it can be.” Saying that over 60 women had been wounded or killed in Civil War battles and several hundred had died in World War I, MatasCastillo said they deserved to be known and remembered as having made the ultimate sacrifice.

“Historians seem reluctant to record and publish the names of women who gave their lives in service to this country,” she said, then, “They (women) deserve to be known as having made the ultimate sacrifice,” including 400 women killed while serving in World War II.

Among those named by MatasCastillo were six nurses killed in a German strafing of a tented hospital ward, along with Aleda E. Lutz of Freeland Michigan and Ellen Ainsworth of Glenwood City, Wisconsin. Survivors of the German strafing were awarded the Silver Star.

Going on to mention 19 women killed in Korea, eight in Vietnam, and 16 in Desert Storm, MatasCastillo said that “dozens more” had been killed in peace time and peacekeeping operations. Since September 11, a total of 161 women had died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I share the stories of these women to honor them and lift them up, as we take this day to contemplate,” she said. The way to make sure those sacrifices hadn’t been made in vain, MatasCastillo said, was by staying involved and engaged in one’s own community, as well as making the most of one’s individual life.

“And improving the lives of those around us,” she said. “So let us continue to remember all the men and women who have served, and continue to serve, as we move forward today.” Council member Dennis presented MatasCastillo with the city coin on behalf of the city, and said she was welcome anytime. Dennis also presented MatasCastillo with a chief’s coin for common background in law enforcement.

With that Council member Dave Thiede read a poem tribute by Staff Sergeant Bob Besker, while Polos sang “God Bless America.” Tony Khambata read a quote by Charles M. Provence from 1970.

“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.” It was the soldier, Khambata said, “who salutes the flag, serves under the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag.” Thanking the crowd for being there, Khambata turned over the podium, with Dennis next introducing Justin Olsen, who spoke on the Mississippi River Valley Beyond the Yellow Ribbon organization.

“I want to thank everyone today for being here today as we pay homage to those who have laid down their lives for our freedom,” he said, saying that Beyond the Yellow Ribbon was about serving veterans.

“That service is an honor and a privilege,” Olsen said. The event closed out with Council member Dennis thanking each person present for their contribution to the Memorial Day event.

“At this point I would ask our color guard to please process the removal of colors,” Dennis said as the flags were retired from their stands.