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More than 1,000 gather for Memorial Day event

By Edie Grossfield

The Post-Bulletin

Past wars and fallen warriors were tied to present day veterans and active soldiers during a Memorial Day ceremony Monday at Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial in Rochester.

More than 1,000 people sat on chairs inside the circular monument or stood around the perimeter to watch color guard groups place their flags, listen to the speakers and pay respect to soldiers who have died in American wars.

Two of the people there Sunday were Carol and Lloyd Vehrenkamp, of Rochester, who were sitting against one of the marble walls at the back of the memorial.

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"My husband served in the Korean War, and we have a flag all the time flying at our home, with a light on it," Carol Vehrenkamp said. "We just love our country and want to come out and honor those who have served, and are still serving."

From the War of Independence to the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than a million American soldiers have died in defense of this country and its ideals, said Thomas Schottenbauer, the event’s main speaker and past national Sergeant at Arms of the American Legion.

Before the ceremony, Schottenbauer, of St. Louis Park, said he was honored to speak because Memorial Day has always been important to him, even from the time he was a young boy growing up in southwestern Minnesota.

"Just about all the men and business people who helped raise me were World War II and Korean War veterans," Schottenbauer said, recalling the Memorial Day ceremonies in his home town of Wabasso.

"After the 21-gun salute, I would run out to pick up all the cartridges," he said with a laugh. "So, I’ve been going to these for a long time."

But Memorial Day doesn’t appear to be as important to people these days, said Jane Slicho, of Rochester, who was at the ceremony Sunday with her husband, George Slicho.

"Both of our parents served, as did my husband. And I think it’s becoming a lost holiday a little bit for some. I mean, you look around, and you see a lot of older people. There are some kids, but I think we need to show support and also recognize the contribution people have made, whether they’ve died or served, to show recognition for that experience that they’ve provided," she said.

Toward the end of the ceremony, Sgt. Kevin Torgerson, an Olmsted County Sheriff’s deputy and member of the Law Enforcement Memorial Honor Guard, played Taps. Fellow honor guard member Gene Eiden echoed the haunting melody from a location out of sight.

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Torgerson said he participates in the honor guard and Memorial Day ceremonies because he feels there is a similarity between law enforcement and military service.

"You go out every day not knowing exactly what may happen. And sometimes bad things happen, and you want to remember those people who laid their lives on the line," he said.

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