ST. GEORGE – People from across Southern Utah gathered together, not to pay tribute to the living, but to recognize and memorialize the nation’s honored dead.
“Remember the difference of what today is,” Ron Lewis, a U.S. Navy veteran and American Legion member, said Monday following a Memorial Day ceremony held in Cedar City Monday.
“This is not Veterans Day,” Lewis said. “Veterans Day is a day to celebrate all veterans. Memorial Day is a day to celebrate, commemorate and remember those who died in action to (defend) the freedoms we enjoy.”
In Cedar City, as in St. George and communities across the nation, flags and flowers were placed by the headstones and markers of grave sites for veterans who died in war and have since passed on.
Some individuals, like St. George resident Ila Hoover, visit the cemetery each year and place flowers on the headstones of veterans left bare of tokens of remembrance.
“We come out every year,” she said. “Our son was in the Air Force, and we just want to pay our respects. There are a lot of memorials out here, headstones, they probably have no family left or no one around in the state. So we try to find the ones that served in some of the wars and pay respects to them.”
Each year American Legion Post 90 out of St. George holds a Memorial Day observance at the St. George cemetery on 700 East. The post itself carries the name of Lester Keate, a U.S. Marine from St. George who was killed in action in France during the final days of World War I.
As a part of the post’s annual Memorial Day observance, the post took a moment to place a wreath at the grave of Lester Keate. While the act has been performed by Legion members and others in the past, this year members of the Marine’s family took part in the ceremony.
“It’s an honor to have people like this in your family line who loved their country more than self,” said Justin Keate, who is descended from one of Lester Keate’s brothers.
Justin Keate, and his father, James Keate, laid the wreathe at Lester Keate’s grave and both described the act as humbling and emotion for them.
“It’s a very humbling feeling,” James said. “There are hundreds of thousands who have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. When one of them bears the same name you have, it’s a very special feeling … It’s a great honor to have been here today.”
Mark Heiner, a long-term volunteer with the American Legion, said Memorial Day brought out “the best of humanity” as many came out to “remember and memorialize those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
Congressman Chris Stewart, R-Utah, was also present and spoke at the American Legion’s Memorial Day observance in St. George. Memorial Day is a special day to him, he said, having had family who served in the military. Stewart himself is a former Air Force pilot who has also lost friends in the line of duty.
“This, to me, is almost a sacred day,” Stewart said, yet added he worries that younger Americans may not quite understand the day’s significance.
“I wonder if the younger people, the next generation, understands how different this county is and what this country really means to the rest of the world,” Stewart said. “It’s days like this that will help them understand that.”
As the Memorial Day observance progressed, a moment was taken to recognized those who have been reported as possible prisoners of war or missing in action. An empty seat placed in front of a small table set for a meal was pointed out to the memorial’s attendees, followed by the black POW-MIA flag being draped over the table.
“I have three people I flew with who are unaccounted for. I flew on the same mission they flew on,” Lewis said of his time in Vietnam and men he served around. “… America should not forget the ones that did not come home. They still gave their lives.”
Among Utah’s public officials who shared their own thoughts on Memorial Day were Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Orrin Hatch.
“While these heroes may be gone from our physical presence, we cannot ever forget their outstanding valor and sacrifice,” Herbert said in a statement Monday. “Their sacred memory must always remain with us, and our gratitude for them must always endure.”
In an email to constituents, Hatch shared the story of his older brother, Jesse Morlan Hatch, who was killed in combat during World War II. He served as a nose-gunner in a B-24 Liberator.
“For those of us who have lost friends or family members in battle, Memorial Day takes on added significance,” Hatch said. “It’s impossible to let this day go by without reliving, at least in some small measure, the same pain we felt at the news of their passing. I know how difficult this suffering can be.”
He recalled the day he was playing outside and felt a growing need to return home – only to find his mother was crying in the presence of a man in uniform who had just told her that her son had been shot down and was presumed dead. Hatch was 10 years old at the time.
“There is little solace for those of us who have lost like this,” he said. “I suspect many of you have lost in a similar manner. Though the grief was unbearable, I will be forever grateful for my brother’s example of bravery, selflessness, and sacrifice.”
St. George News / Cedar Cedar City News reporter Tracie Sullivan contributed to this article.
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