"Taps" echoed through the rafters at St. Peter on the Prairie and descended into silent remembrance on Sunday afternoon as a small group gathered for a Memorial Remembrance Program.
With prayer led by Jim Iverson, retired administrator from Bethel Lutheran Home, and a presentation by Danny Frisby-Griffin, retired U.S. Air Force officer, the program also included a time for sharing memories of the former church and an update on the cemetery. Joel Brick provided special music.
Frisby-Griffin began his remarks by speaking of the history of Memorial Day, which has its roots in the years immediately following the Civil War. The head of an organization of Union veterans established a day near the end of May for decorating the graves of the war dead with flowers.
"It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country," he said.
The first large observance at Arlington National Cemetery was held in 1868. After speeches by dignitaries, veterans and children from the Soldiers and Sailors' Orphan Home placed flowers on the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers alike. Small flags were also placed on each grave, a tradition which has continued through the years.
The head of the veterans' organization also sent an order to posts instructing them to care for the gravesites so that "no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic," Frisby-Griffin said.
He reported that 1.1 million Americans have died as a result of wars and reported on legislation passed and signed into law in December 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance Act. Through this, the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance was created.
This commission bears the responsibility of encouraging Memorial Day services and the National Moment of Remembrance. At 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, Americans are asked to pause for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation.
Frisby-Griffin spoke of those things which "put a vice grip on your heart and cause one to choke with emotion." For him, these include raising and lowering the flag, hearing "Taps," seeing the missing man formation and celebrating liberation from a prisoner of war cell during training. Tears filled his eyes as he described the latter experience.
They did so again when he spoke of his family flag which is stored in a simple plastic case.
"The flag is my personal symbol of commitment, remembrance and has been incorporated into every ceremony and official event I've participated in since Jan. 2004," Frisby-Griffin said.
It was used at the funeral of his cousin, a Vietnam vet, and flew over the nation's capital in June 2002. It was in the lead aircraft of the flyover for the Flight 93 memorial service in Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2002, where Frisby-Griffin was the ground controller.
The flag was on display at both of his change of commands and was in his last military flight on Nov. 18, 2004. It was also the centerpiece of his retirement ceremony in July 2009. Folded into the flag are shell casings from funeral volleys for three uncles and his grandmother, Lucile Griffin, whose service was unknown to him until her funeral.
"This flag, the symbol of our family's service, will be unfolded only one more time to be draped over my casket during the memorial service. It will be folded one last time, with shell casings from my funeral volley joining the others and then delicately placed in my family's hands to continue its job -- symbolizing our family's service to our nation," Frisby-Griffin said.
Before talking about the Veterans Honor Park, he concluded by saying Memorial Day is "a reminder that freedom is never free and comes with significant and noble sacrifices of those who have given their last measure of devotion in service to the ideals we hold dear and in defense of our great nation."
Frisby-Griffin described the honor park, noting changes in the concept since the original plans were developed. These include reducing the number of granite monoliths to three with each bearing the emblem of two branches of the military.
"It's going to be clean, concise, someplace you will want to bring your family to talk about your service," he said, describing the park.
He reported the site on Washington Ave. has been cleaned out and graded, and concrete will be poured later this summer. The granite slabs depicting branches of the military are in the state, but the sunrise wall which will depict a military career won't be installed for at least a year.
Frisby-Griffin also noted the groundbreaking will be at 5 p.m. on June 2.