« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Erik Burgess, Published May 27 2013

A lot of tears: With seven ceremonies, Horace color guard stays busy honoring service members

HORACE, N.D. - It starts out like any Memorial Day event, before it gets a little strange.

A few sturdy color guard members march out onto gravesites with old brown rifles slung over their shoulders.

A prayer is shared, the guard aims into the sky and squeezes off three volleys, always to the noticeable surprise of one or two unsuspecting guests.

A bugler blows, and tears flow.

But when the last note of taps fades away, Russell Berg and his color guard crew hurriedly pack up their gear and scram.

It’s a bit of an odd sight on such a solemn holiday. Not that the color guard and Berg don’t want to stay, but the Horace American Legion Color Guard’s itinerary is always full on Memorial Day, and there are others waiting.

The seven-person color guard conducted seven Memorial Day ceremonies at seven sites on Monday. The whole trip is 25 miles long and spans four hours.

It’s been a tradition for the Legion here since it opened in 1955, Berg says, and he himself has been doing it for 35 years. He says it’s not uncommon for small town American Legion members to do this, and the crowds, no matter how small, are always appreciative.

“This is my Memorial Day,” said Berg, post commander of the Horace American Legion. “People think about Memorial Day as a vacation day, you know, but this to me is what Memorial Day is. It’s remembering our service members.”

‘Very emotional’ day

Berg’s first stop on Monday was Clemenson Cemetery about 1 mile south and west of Horace. The modest family plot has been kept tidy for decades by Marie Smith, and her late mother before her.

The names of veterans buried there were read aloud before the traditional three-shot volley. Every name was close to Smith’s heart: Adolph Clemenson, her father; Edward Arntson, her brother-in-law; James Smith, her husband.

When the familiar melancholy melody of taps rang out across the farmland, Smith’s eyes welled up with tears. It’s a ritual she goes through every year in honor of who she lovingly referred to as “the guys.”

“I used to come up here with my mom when I was a little kid, and she would mow this cemetery by hand,” Smith said, eyes full of tears. “You know, I just got so used to it, that it’s like sitting at the kitchen table when I come out here. So, yeah, it’s very emotional for me.”

As quickly as they came, the Horace color guard members hopped into their convoy and sped off to the next ceremony a couple of miles away at St. Benedict’s Church, where a much larger crowd was waiting.

The ceremony is much the same, although the solemn faces in the crowd have changed.

The names of dozens of veterans are read off, and an American flag is planted for each one by the assisting local Boy Scout troop. A prayer is read and shots are fired.

New to the St. Benedict’s crowd was 85-year-old Arcade Duval, sporting a tan suit that matched the color guard uniform. Duval was in the lineup for 56 years, but he retired this year.

His wife of 59 years, Rosemarie, watched him from afar as the ceremony took place. This time, Arcade stood on the sideline.

“He’ll miss it,” Rosemarie said.

Rag-tag color guard

The Horace Color Guard ranks have waned in recent years, as have the crowds, said bugler Randy Hajek, whose late father used to be post commander.

“He’s kinda what kept me in it,” Hajek said. “He’d always say, ‘You don’t have to do it, but why don’t you do it?’ ”

After 40 years, Hajek is still playing taps for the color guard, which Berg admitted is a pretty rag-tag crew nowadays.

Some have been at it for at least 30 years, like Berg, 67, and 75-year-old Roger Rustad.

Brad Hanson, 46, and Jeff Hanson, 56, brothers and Navy veterans, have been doing it for three or four years. Duane Malakowsky, 69, has two years under his belt.

Chris Johnston, a 29-year-old Army National Guard veteran who lives in Horace, unofficially joined the ranks this year.

Berg’s daughter, Jolene Sauvageau, joined the Horace color guard a few years ago. On Monday, she wore her Air National Guard navy blues and carried the stars and stripes with a leather flag holder slung around her neck.

She once asked Berg if she’d be in charge of this gig one day.

“I’ll do it as long as I’m able,” Berg replied.

‘Meaningful’ day

The crew hit three cemeteries on Monday before taking a short coffee break at Horace Lutheran Church. Then it was back on the road for rapid, 15-minute stops at four more cemeteries.

A special stop was a bridge over the Sheyenne River, where two wreaths were tossed into the water to commemorate two Horace natives who died at sea during World War II.

Wanda Woollweever, 50, of Horace, was on the bridge Monday, sniffing back tears as the Rev. Patrick Loree, of Horace Lutheran Church, read a prayer. It was the same prayer he shared seven times on Monday, but each time with a refreshed vigor.

It seemed to be taking its emotional toll on Woollweever. The 50-year-old’s father, a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient, died a year ago. He is buried in nearby Brink Cemetery, one of the color guard’s last stops.

It’s these little ceremonies each year that help her remember her father and thank those that have given the ultimate sacrifice, she said. And although the day is hectic for Berg’s crew, that’s why it’s all worth it.

“You have World War II vet widows come up and say ‘thank you,’ ” Brad Hanson said. “That’s meaningful.”

Widows like Sandy Scheidegger, whose husband, brother and two sons are all buried in the Lower Wild Rice and Red River Cemetery north of Hickson, another stopping point for Berg’s crew.

The bugle calls flood Scheidegger’s head with memories, but the 71-year-old said she doesn’t need a special day to remember her loved ones.

“I think of them all the time. I never stop thinking of them,” she said. “But I wouldn’t miss being here to honor them. I’m really proud of them. All of them.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518