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St. Paul, Minn. — At Fort Snelling National Cemetery in St. Paul, about 2,000 people gathered to mark Memorial Day. The ceremony began with a short parade of veterans from the various armed services and wars. They said a prayer, recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the national anthem.
More than 160,000 veterans and their dependents are buried at Fort Snelling -- one of the busiest national cemeteries in the country. Gov. Pawlenty told the crowd that although the fight of those honored on Memorial Day is over, their battles wage on.
"The ones we honor left work for all of us to do. Freedom must be won over and over again," Pawlenty said. "As has been noted, the task is not free and it is not simple. Freedom never is, because the enemies of freedom never fight fair and they never seem to go away for very long." Some veterans were singled out for honors, including Charles Lindberg, the last survivor of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima.
U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton called the day sacred, and offered special recognition of the recent war dead -- the more than 1,000 soldiers who've died in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Dayton, a DFLer, also used used the occasion to question the Bush administration's leadership during the current conflict in Iraq.
"Any policy which cannot withstand questions or criticisms is not sound enough to deserve the lives of citizens. Any leader who cannot withstand those questions or criticisms dose not deserve their support," Dayton said. "Agreement and acquiescence are not owed, they are earned. They're not the requirements of patriotism, they're the rights of patriots."
At Hillside Cemetery in Minneapolis, about 300 people gathered to hear patriotic songs by a brass ensemble, a singer, and an address by U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, a Republican from the 3rd District. Ramstad told the crowd the message of Memorial Day is that freedom is not free. Ramstad described having breakfast with 92-year-old Tony Fazer, a World War II veteran whose ship faced attacks from Kamikaze pilots.
"He grieves to this day, 59 and 60 years later, at the loss of his buddies in battle in World War II. Those are the sacrifices that have made America the great nation that we are today," Ramstad said.
During the ceremony, a gust of wind blew down the American flag standing behind the podium. When it happened a second time, it was too much for Ray Rucinski of Fridley. He served with the Marines in World War II in the Pacific, and saw more than 100 days of combat on Okinawa and Guam.
Rucinski got up from his seat in the audience, picked up the flag, and held the staff upright, standing in an at-ease position for about the last 15 minutes of the ceremony.
"When I saw that flag fall the first time, it made the old heart start to beat, and I said that flag is not going to lay on the ground again. When it fell the second time, I said to my wife, 'I'm getting up and I am going to hold that flag up,'" Rucinski said. "I have a flag in my back yard, which goes up in the morning and comes down at night. It never is in any bad weather. That flag protected me and I protected that flag, and it would never touch the ground."
Rucinski held the flag through the playing of Taps, until the color guard came to retire the flags.
(MPR reporter Bill Catlin contributed to this report)