The color guard members wore no uniforms. There was no snap in their step. Some of them needed help with their flag. Half of them used motorized wheelchairs.
Yet the Eastern Nebraska Veterans' Home color guard offered a meaningful patriotic display on Memorial Day.
Each of the men held a salute. Although some of their words were slower than the crowd's, they recited the Pledge of Allegiance with clarity.
Beforehand, generals from Offutt Air Force Base and Medal of Honor recipient Bob Kerrey, now a candidate for U.S. Senate, spoke individually with veterans home residents.
Nancy McCoy's husband, Tom, is one resident. The Bellevue woman asked Kerrey to speak to her spouse.
“Thank you for your service,” Kerrey told Tom McCoy after chatting with him about his Navy service in World War II.
Bernie McCoy of Bellevue visits his brother almost daily. He told his brother's story.
Tom McCoy was a Navy gunner's mate third class on an LST (Landing Ship, Tank). It had just deployed the men it had ferried to Wake Island when the LST was blown out from under him.
The Battle of Wake Island lasted from Dec. 8 to 23, 1941. U.S. survivors not pressed into slave labor and eventually killed became long-term prisoners of war.
“They (veterans) deserve everything they get for what they did for us,” Bernie McCoy said. On this Memorial Day, “I'm remembering all the people that didn't make it back.”
The presentation at the veterans home, 12505 S. 40th St. in Bellevue, was one of many Memorial Day events throughout the metro area.
Besides attending formal programs and religious services, many families came to cemeteries to visit graves.
Westlawn-Hillcrest Memorial Park, 5701 Center St., had a line of cars waiting to enter by midmorning. Many graves already were decorated.
Leonard Gau of the Florence neighborhood was there. He said he comes yearly to honor his parents, Cornelius and Leona Gau, and brothers-in-law, Robert W. McAleer and Robert P. Clark.
Monica Clark, Gau's sister, already had decorated the graves of her late husbands, but Gau added more flowers and small U.S. flags.
Robert Clark “was on the sands of Iwo Jima,” Gau said, and McAleer served in the Korean War. Both men made it home safely.
“I don't ever forget,” Gau said.
Sharon Watson, who lives near Crossroads Mall, came to decorate the grave of her father, Warren W. Melhorn, an Army staff sergeant in World War II.
Melhorn also returned from the war and “he led a very busy life,” Watson said.
With her was her brother-in-law, Don Hadenfeldt of Cairo, Neb. On Sunday, he decorated the Grand Island, Neb., grave of his late wife, Florence. She and Watson were sisters.
Watson said that visiting gravesites on Memorial Day is an emotional experience for her, so she hadn't planned to go until Hadenfeldt insisted.
“I do think it's important that we pay our respects,” he said.
Nicole Turille of Ralston was at Cedardale Cemetery in Papillion.
Her visits aren't so much to pay respect as they are to remember.
“I come here almost once a week,” she said. Her 3-year-old son, Ryder, was buried there at Halloween. He had cancer. Turille's grandparents also are in the cemetery.
“It's just so peaceful here. My grandparents are nearby, so they can keep an eye on Ryder,” she said.
The boy's grave was marked by a large orange pinwheel that was spinning swiftly in the early afternoon breeze. Turille also decorates his grave on other holidays.
Numerous U.S. flags stood guard at Cedardale, as at other cemeteries, including Prospect Hill Cemetery at 32nd and Parker Streets.
A crowd estimated at more than 200 people attended the 34th annual “Old-Fashioned Memorial Day Observance” at the cemetery. Many in the audience wore red, white and blue.
The intergenerational Prospect Hill Preservation Brass Ensemble played songs ranging from “Nearer My God to Thee” to “Liberty Bell March” to “Taps.”
“This is a solemn day for all Americans” to recognize those who served in all U.S. wars, said master of ceremonies David Harding of the cemetery's board.
The Rev. Richard Burgess of the United Methodist Church gave the invocation and the benediction. Burgess is an 82-year-old Korean War vet who comes from a long line of those who have served the United States, dating to ancestors who fought for George Washington.
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