Members of the Fort Dodge community gathered near Badger Lake and on the green lawns of a cemetery Monday morning to remember all those who died fighting for the freedoms that Americans enjoy.
''We come here today not to mourn our fallen veterans, but to praise them for their sacrifices and to say thank you to those who stand with us here today,'' Gary Eischeid, a retired brigadier general, told the roughly 250 people at North Lawn Cemetery.
The troops who fell in battle, he said, ''knew what they were about and were doing what they wanted to do.''
- Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Members of the rifle squad of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1856 stand at attention during the Memorial Day ceremony Monday morning at North Lawn Cemetery in Fort Dodge.
Eischeid, who retired after 35 years of service in both the Iowa Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, was the keynote speaker at the observance. He is the general manager of the POET Biorefining ethanol plant near Gowrie.
Earlier Monday morning, a short service was held at Veterans Memorial Park, near Badger Lake north of Fort Dodge, to honor those lost at sea.
''During this ceremony we especially want to pay tribute to those sailors who gave their all and are buried beneath the ocean waves,'' said Goldie Davis, president of the American Legion Post 130 Auxiliary.
A wreath of red, white and blue flowers was dropped into the lake, and John Webb, of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1856, played Taps.
Local Memorial Day activities then moved to North Lawn Cemetery on North 15th Street, which was decorated with rows of American flags. The Karl King Municipal Band and the Harmony Brigade performed patriotic music.
During the ceremony, Chuck Baedke, of Fort Dodge, was named the Veteran of the Year.
Tom Dorsey, the commandant of the Fort Dodge Veterans Council, described Baedke as the ''tireless leader of the VFW Post 1856 Honor Guard.''
He added that Baedke is a longtime member of the post's Canteen Committee. He also is a volunteer groundskeeper for the post and drives its parade float.
Baedke, of Fort Dodge, is an Army veteran who was part of an artillery unit during his 1952-1954 tour of duty. Dorsey presented him with a plaque.
Maj. Steve Peters, the chaplain of the 185th Air Refueling Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard, read the names of all Webster County veterans who died in the last year.
When Eischeid spoke, he first reminded his audience that the United States is still at war against terrorists, an enemy he said is determined to ''eliminate all of us at home or enslave us in a sick form of extremism.''
He also urged everyone present to thank veterans for their service. Those who have never been in the military, he said, don't have a sense of the sacrifices made by service members or of the honor that unites troops.
''The protected can't begin to understand the price paid so they and their families can be free and enjoy life,'' Eischeid said.
''What they are missing, what they will also never understand, is the sense of commitment, joy and honor of wearing the uniform and serving this great country of ours,'' he said.
He said the United States will always endure as long as there are people who share that commitment.
''Rest assured our America, this experiment in democracy that started just over two centuries ago, will forever remain the land of the free and the home of the brave so long as we never, never run out of young men and women who are willing to step forward, raise their right hand and take the oath to protect and defend this beautiful country of ours,'' Eischeid said.
The ceremony concluded with two trumpeters from the band playing Taps and a rifle salute fired by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1856 Honor Guard.