Friday, October 31, 2014
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Memorial Day at Fort Snelling National Cemetary
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A man looks for a particular grave at Fort Snelling National Cemetary on Memorial Day. (MPR News/Bianca Vazquez Toness )
Thousands of Minnesotans celebrated Memorial Day at Fort Snelling National Cemetary in the Twin Cities. Many came to honor military veterans, while others were there primarily to visit their loved ones' graves.

St. Paul, Minn. — People of all ages turned out for a military ceremony where they sang songs, remembered past wars and contemplated the current battle in Iraq.

Keynote speaker, Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, Minnesota National Guard adjutant general, spoke about how to be a citizen soldier. He urged citizens, both veterans and those who've never worn a uniform, not to sit on the sidelines during the war on terror.

Shellito said citizens should treat soldiers overseas with respect and do their part by "taking care of their families here."

Terry Brand from Winona says she enjoyed Shellito's speech, even though she doesn't support the war in Iraq. This was her first visit to the cemetary since her father was buried there last January. Her entire family made the trip because she says Memorial Day was important to her father, a Vietnam veteran.

"My dad used to participate in Winona, during the Memorial Day services, in the firing squad," she says. "So it always meant something. But now it really means something since he passed away and now he's one of the ones we remember."

For Yvonne Harrington from Burnsville, the annual Memorial Day trip to Fort Snelling National Cemetary has been a tradition for decades. She doesn't attend the military ceremony, but holds her own family ritual.

The family visits the graves of both of her brothers who she says were burried here "way too young," in their 40s, after their military service. Harrington brought her niece, Jennifer, to share stories and create a picture of Jennifer's father, who died before she was born.

"He was always just upbeat and that's still a memory in all of our minds," Harrington says. "He always smiled when he was in your presence."

Harrington says even though she's been coming here for decades, it still feels important to keep coming back.

"We come as often as we can," she says. "And it is a special day and we wanted to keep that tradition going. For us it's meaningful to know they're still in our hearts. And if they're looking down they know that we love them and we care."

While reconnecting with family motivates some to come to the cemetary, others came out of patriotism. Jacqueline Simmons of Minneapolis sat in the shade with a friend, taking in the sunny day and reflecting on the time that's passed since she was here last Memorial Day.

"I find it very moving to come out here," she says. "I really enjoy the people talking and everything they have to say about freedom. These young men have died for freedom at such a young age. With the war in Iraq, whenever I watch the news it brings tears to my eyes because they're so young."

Simmons calls the Memorial Day tradition "beautiful." She says it's her chance to publicly mourn and pay hommage to people she will never know.

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