May 31—Hearts were heavy Monday morning at Servicemen's Memorial Cemetery in Mitchell, as people gathered to remember the brave soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Although roughly 1 million fallen members of the military are gone, Craig Bennett, a retired Navy veteran and Davison County veterans service officer, said their memories and brave hearts will live on forever. Bennett challenged the roughly 200 people in attendance at the Memorial Day ceremony to offer their support for the brave men and women who died fighting for the freedom of America that still stands today, encouraging everyone to donate to the families of the fallen military members.
"Most of us will truly not understand the depths of their despair unless we have experienced it. But we can offer our support. We can wear the poppy and place flags and wreaths at their graves," an emotional Bennett said. "We can donate to charities that provide for their families. We can look at their surviving brothers and sisters and say 'Thank you for your service.'"
Bennett highlighted the brave sacrifice of two late Jewish brothers, Ferdinand and Alfred Lebrecht, who fled Nazi-led Germany in the 1930s and ended up moving to America. Seven years later, the Lebrecht brothers found themselves fighting the same Nazi regime that killed millions of their fellow Jewish people.
While the brave brothers died in Germany in 1945, while fighting the Nazi regime as American soldiers, Bennett said their ultimate sacrifice lives on.
"Author Kevin Callahan noted in his book 'Brothers in Arms,' 'The memory of those two brave soldiers who escaped Nazi Germany only to perish in its destruction lives on.' That's why we are here today: to recall not just the memories of the Lebrecht brothers, but to honor the sacrifices made by the 1 million heroes who died defending the country since the American Revolution," Bennett said.
Bennett asked the crowd to remember the 1,600 soldiers who died in covert operations and Cold War battles, emphasizing every fallen military member deserves to be honored.
Bennett pointed to the American Legion's decision to change its preamble in 2019 to expand their publicly stated commitment that promised to preserve the memories and incidents of all the fallen heroes who fought and died protecting the freedoms America has enjoyed for over two centuries.
"We are here today to honor all of our fallen heroes," Bennett said, referencing soldiers who fought in the American Revolution War, Grenada and Beirut. "The location is unimportant; it is the hearts of these men and women that truly matter. We honor their sacrifice as much as we honor those lost on Iwo Jima or the frozen Chosin."
During the ceremony, several wreaths were presented to families who recently lost loved ones in the line of duty.
Soldiers who died on the battlefield weren't the only heroes honored during Monday's ceremony. Duane Kummer, commander of Mitchell's VFW Post 2750, took a moment to remember all of the veterans who took their lives away from the battlefield.
"Prior to the pandemic, we averaged 300 deaths per day in the United States. 100 of those deaths were suicide, and 20 of those deaths were related to military veterans," Kummer said.
As a veteran himself, Kummer said there is still "a lot of work that needs to be done" on the home front to care for the veterans dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts.
"We've lost many soldiers on the battlefield, but there's a battle going on at home today," Kummer said.