By Bruce Karnick
Memorial Day is a day where we remember those who gave the ultimate sacri 昀ce defending the freedoms of people they never met. More than 1.3 million American lives have been lost in the history of US wars, and a group of local volunteers – including many veterans – continues to ensure that those who died from the greater Hastings area are not forgotten.
On Saturday, volunteers loaded up with their 昀ags and other needed supplies on to a bus donated by Minnesota Coaches/Hastings Bus Company, and they start the 4–5-hour journey. They travel to Miesville, New Trier, Hampton and Vermillion to place over 150 昀ags at the headstones of fallen brothers and sisters. Along the way, the group is treated to beverages and snacks from Dan’s Bar in New Trier and Duff’s Tavern in Vermillion to thank them for their role in helping honor those who gave all.
John Gelhar and Curtis Latch of Hastings are two of those veterans who gives their time to remember those that served before them. On Friday, they went around to three other smaller cemeteries: Bellwood, Coates and County Line. There they placed around 20 昀ags total. Gelhar and Gloria Pinky will go around to the sites to gather the 昀ags after Memorial Day so they can be used again in the future.
“Obviously, it’s much faster putting them in than taking them out,” said Gelhar. “We have 20 people placing the 昀ags today and later in the week, it will just be Gloria and I picking them up.”
That is something he does not mind. During the chat, it was hard not to get emotional at the pride he feels in honoring those that died in the line of service.
“Because they’re my fallen veterans, and I’m a 12-and-a-half-year Navy veteran myself and they deserve it. I’m willing to give them my time and effort to do it for them,” added Gehlar.
As we were talking, more and more volunteers began to gather, what did it mean to Gehlar to see the group growing each year?
“That means people care. I’d rather have more people care and take less time doing it, then it be just a few that take longer. That’s pride in your country and what they provided for us and their time of service, they are no longer with us,” Gelhar said choking up. “I’m proud to do it, it’s my honor.”
Gelhar invited his girlfriend, now 昀ancé, Wanda Bennett, to the event three years ago. “It was just such a humbling experience. To be part of this, you see everything happening all the time. But what does it take to put these events on? This is just a small corner of our world to do this and having the honor to be able to be part of it. I’m very happy to do so,” she said.
Bennet expanded on her connection to the military.
“I have family members who have served in the military. I had a grandfather who served both in the Army and the Navy. When he was done with one, he signed up with another one. I had an uncle who also served in the Army, and so it’s family connected.”
The day started around 8 a.m. with Breakfast at the Legion for the volunteers. They loaded the bus at 10 a.m. to head out where they spent about half an hour at each cemetery, before returning to Hastings around 3 p.m.
Thank you to the volunteers and the supporting businesses for being a huge part of remembering the areas fallen heroes.