Neither President Janet Bemis nor Vice President Viki McCracken of the John Saylor Unit of American Legion Auxiliary remembered exactly how long there has been a Memorial Day ceremony held at Circle Mound Cemetery in Rising City.

What they could say for certain, though, is that they both have been attending since they were children more than 50 years ago.

This year, more than 125 flags were planted - each one representing a service member of the United State military who lost his or her life in combat.

"We're trying to honor all the veterans that have given service to give us freedom," McCracken said.

People from all around the area showed up for the ceremony, including a younger generation that Bemis noted she was happy to see in attendance.

"We like to see the younger people come because they need to know the history of all of this and see how we honor our past soldiers that have lost their lives," she said.

Vietnam War veteran and Rising City High School alumnus Alton K. Crook was the guest speaker during the Memorial Day gathering.

Crook graduated from Rising City High School in 1960 before going on to serve in the U.S. Army from 1965-1967.

While in service as a platoon leader, he was wounded twice and received a Purple Heart - a U.S. military decoration awarded in the name of the president to those wounded or killed while serving. He also was a recipient of four Bronze Stars for Valor while serving in Vietnam, a U.S. decoration awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.

"I think it's very important (to have these ceremonies), especially for people under 50 where a majority of the people have not served and now we're reaching the third generation of people who have no lineage of any of their aunts or uncles having served," Crook said. "We need to keep the history alive of how this country was kept strong over the last couple hundred years by men and women serving in the armed forces ensuring those freedoms that we all enjoy."

A lot of work went into making sure this year's ceremony went according to plan. Every veteran in the cemetery had a flag placed at his or her grave in addition to the 125 flags also erected.

With all the work needing completed, McCracken said she was thankful to the community for all of its assistance.

"Rising City is known as probably most small communities, you cry for help and we have volunteers that come and help," she said. "Of course, everyone is more than thankful to our veterans that have given their lives."

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It costs $50 for each flag to be planted, and while many are paid for by family members, some people reach out to pay for veterans they don't even know or have any ties with.

"There are lots of people that are not from this area that don't even know about this and so we are very fortunate we have had people in the community that just said 'who's buried out there that needs a flag?'" Bemis said. "They're donating the $50 to help us get a flag for every veteran we know out here."

Bemis said it took more than an hour to plant the flags on Monday morning and more than an hour to put the additional flags at veterans' graves.

"This morning it took us about an hour," she said. "We have community members that come and help. Our husbands come in and help. We put the word out and we just really have a good representation of people coming."

The county's veterans administration also plays a key part in helping make the ceremony possible.

"The county veterans administration furnishes the flag holders and keeps good track of where our veterans served and what time they served and what their rank was, so we really rely on the veteran administration to help us," McCraken said.

Being one of the only Memorial Day services in the area, Rising City tends to get a good crowd.

"We have a fabulous turnout," McCraken said. "In fact, the honor guard commented that of all the different cemeteries that they go to, for our size of the community, we have a very good turnout."

Crook said he believes the goal of these ceremonies should be remembering the military members that are no longer around.

"I think the main purpose should be that we are keeping the memories alive of those who went and served their country, that helped keep this country free and the sacrifices that will have to be made in the future because the world in a scary place," he said.

"I would like to keep the memories alive of those fallen heroes who went before and gave the ultimate sacrifice. They didn't have the chance that I did. I was wounded several times, I was fortunate that I survived those wounds and I was able to enjoy my senior years."

Those wishing to help out or help pay for the cost of a flag next year can reach Bemis at 402-367-3667.

Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at peter.huguenin@lee.net

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