Memorial Day returned as an in-person observance at the Cottage Grove Armory on May 30 as the venue filled with community members commemorating and honoring military personnel who have fallen.
The last two years of Memorial Day events have been held in partially virtual ceremonies due to COVID-19 restrictions.
American Legion Post 32 hosted the event and Scout Troop 140 served as color guard.
Following a performance of the national anthem by Ashley Walter, Pastor Jim Markus of Trinity Lutheran Church began the ceremony with an opening prayer of remembrance for those who have sacrificed their lives in service of the country.
Mayor Jeff Gowing welcomed the crowd and pointed to a table and chair displayed before the stage.
The display was decorated with various items representing a space for prisoners of war and those missing in action.
“The single red rose in the vase is there as a reminder of the lives of each of the missing and their loved ones, who keep the faith and still wait for an answer,” Gowing explained. “The red ribbon tied around the vase shows our continued determination to account for the missing. A lemon slice at each bread plate is to remind us the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land. A pinch of salt recalls the tears endured by those missing and their families who seek an answer. The Bible represents strength gained through the faith to sustain those lost from our country, which is founded as one nation under God. The inverted glass symbolizes their inability to share the day’s toast. The chair stands empty to express their absence.”
Gowing spoke of the roots of Memorial Day and reminded the audience, as they enjoy the weekend, to keep in mind those who have sacrificed.
This year’s keynote address was given by Brenda Wilson, a Vietnam Gold Star Daughter and the executive director of Lane Council of Governments.
Wilson remarked on Memorial Day as a day of both obligation and opportunity.
“Our obligation is to honor the fallen — always. Our opportunity is to use this day to inspire new generations to understand the freedoms they have been given and to grasp how and why it is theirs,” she said.
Wilson also reflected on a life lived without her father, who fell in the Vietnam War while she was an infant.
“I didn’t think I had lost anything because I didn’t know him,” she said, referencing the adage that “you can’t lose something you never had.”
In addition to those that have suffered personal loss, Wilson acknowledged that many Americans on Memorial Day are trying to commemorate something they have never personally known.
“I know that many of you also reflect on all the things you will never know about your loved ones who were lost serving our country. But we know we are grateful,” she said. “I will never know the answers to the questions that I asked about my father; what it would have been like to know him. But I do know one thing. I know why he died — because he answered the call to service and paid the cost of that devotion to duty in order to preserve and defend this great land. And I know I am forever proud of him and the sacrifice that he was willing to give.”
Next, VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Commander Kenn Hunt read from a list of local veterans from the community who had fallen in the last year, each reflected on with a bell chime and a rose placed in a vase.
Pastor Markus finished the ceremony with a benediction asking for protection of the active military and a future of peace.
From the Armory, Mayor Gowing led a procession through the downtown area, carrying a wreath to the Main Street Bridge, where it was dropped into the Coast Fork Willamette River.
The observance ended with a 21-gun salute and a performance of “Taps” at Veterans Park.