TANNER SAMUELSON gave the Memorial Day Address at Kittson Central during Hallock’s Memorial Day services. (Enterprise Photo by Margie Holmgren)
By Tanner Samuelson
Given at the Hallock Memorial Day ceremony held at Kittson Central
Thank you Elden (Johnson). I’d also like to thank the Legion, specifically John Muir, for asking me to give the Memorial Day address. It is truly an honor and a privilege to stand up here and speak to you all today.
Today we gather here to remember the men and women that served and are currently serving to preserve our freedom. I’m going to share with you my memories of Memorial Day and what it means to me.
As a young child, my grandfather, a Marine Corps veteran of World War II, brought me along every Sunday of Memorial Day weekend to the nine cemetery’s that Davidson post 156 based in Edinburg North Dakota, has the honor of memorializing those who served.
I have vivid memories of watching the World War II, Korean, and a few Vietnam veterans walking to the cemetery with the American flag on the left and the American Legion flag on the right with seven Rifleman. Bowing my head for the Memorial Day prayer, hearing the names of the Fallen in roll call. Immediately after, the salute to the Dead with seven rifles going off with the command, make ready, aim, fire, ready, aim, fire, ready, aim, fire. Seeing the crisp movement of the squad to the position of attention for the bugler to play The Melancholy notes of taps.
I was and am fortunate to be around unwavering patriotism.
Looking back, I suppose it was these experiences that planted the patriotic seed within my soul. I became determined to serve when the time came. After seeing a video of the Navy’s Blue Angels, I had aspirations to be a fighter pilot. I remember my Marine Corps Grandpa’s reaction when I told him; “The Navy! All the Navy is good for is to give the Marines a ride to the fight.” I didn’t give in; I did whatever I could to give myself the best chance to reach my goals. In Junior High, after seeing a really inspiring commercial for the Navy, I called the 1-800 number and asked for information on how to become a fighter pilot. When the person on the other end of the phone found out my age, I’m sure they chuckled a little bit. I was disappointed when all I got was a poster. I had a great teacher in my freshman year of high school that encouraged me to write letters to the senators in hopes of getting an appointment to a military academy, so I did.
Life landed me up in Roseau, and MN National Guard had a strong presence and good success with recruiting. One evening, I got a phone call. Of course, the recruiter did what recruiters do. He told me I could do whatever I wanted to in the National Guard. So I said sure. I even gave it the Marine Corps grandpa test, and it passed. He thought the guard was a good deal, secretly thinking that it meant I would stay home and help fight floods instead of fighting abroad as he did.
At the age of 17, I enlisted in the MN Army National Guard. I went off to basic training and infantry school in Ft. Benning, GA. Upon my return, my grandfather immediately paid my legion dues and requested my presence in the firing squad each memorial day. It was my turn to be a part of the ceremony I so often observed as a young boy.
Participating with the squad, I saw first hand the mountain of effort my grandfather put into the day’s events. He would start preparations weeks beforehand and drive my grandmother a little bit crazy. For the old Marine, the drill and ceremony of the Legion squad would never compare to that of the Corps. I recall after a firing squad volley that I though went well, asking my grandpa “That went pretty good, right grandpa?” He responded, “It was ok for a bunch of Army and Navy guys.”
I thought his response was just the coarse Marine that he was. But now I see it differently. There is no amount of ceremony or perfection that can even begin to repay the debt we owe those who gave all. But we must continue to remember and give thanks in anyway we are able to.
In 2005, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq was hot and my number was eventually called. In October, I said goodbye to my wife Mandi, and left for Camp Shelby, MS with Bravo Company 2-136 to train up for eventual deployment to Iraq. Our unit was comprised of a bunch of tough boys from Minnesota. We hit the ground running and performed security missions and infantry operations in Al Anbar province in the vicinity of Fallujah and Ramadi. As we were just beginning to get ready to come home, our deployment was extended. My unit spent a total of 22 months away from home, 16 of them in a combat zone.
In the past 14 years, I have only missed two Memorial Day services, both while in Iraq. I see people getting ready for a big barbecue or the first weekend at the lake. They ask me about my plans, and I respond with, “I am going to go to Memorial Day services.” I am more frequently getting puzzled looks as a response. This is a troubling trend.
I may be preaching to the choir as the cliché goes, as you are here today, but we must remember the meaning of Memorial Day. We must tell our friends, family, and anyone who will listen. And we absolutely must tell our children the stories of our nation’s veterans and the sacrifices they made.
Memorial day now has a different meaning to me. You see three good men from Bravo Company are no longer with us, three good men taken too soon, three good men unable to accomplish their dreams. SSGT James Wosika, SGT Bryan McDonough, both from the Twin Cities area, and SGT Corey Rystad from just down the road, in Red Lake Falls are unable to be with us today and enjoy this thing beautiful thing we call life.
Just weeks before SGT Rystad and SGT McDonough were taken from us, I was in the lead Humvee on patrol. My good friend, SPC Ben Diedrich was driving and he happened to notice a shimmer of light in the middle of the dirt road. Our team leader, SGT Eng Yang exited the Humvee to investigate. He immediately waved our squad back as an IED was buried in the road.
This was the exact location that SGT Rystad and SGT McDonough were called to meet the good Lord. SSGT John Kriesel became a double amputee, losing both his legs, and my good friend, SSGT Tim Nelson, was the only soldier in that Humvee to return to B-Co. But make no mistake; SSGT Nelson bares a tremendous emotional burden, as so many of today’s veterans do.
I want to read an account of SGT Wosika as posted in an article by Eric Bowen and written by our company commander, CPT Chip Rankin.
On Tuesday, January 9th a brave leader told the guys in his squad to get behind some cover as he checked out a potentially dangerous situation, an explosion occurred and Jimmy was killed instantly… His actions that day without question saved the lives of 8 other Soldiers, his fellow brothers. Jim did this without hesitation and knowing Jimmy he would do it again
Challenges like one that faced SSG Jim Wosika that Tuesday afternoon, when he knew the price he might be asked to pay and went ahead without hesitation because he knew it was the right thing to do
So I stand here today, perhaps with a bit of guilt, trying my hardest to make those boys’ sacrifice never forgotten.
Just yesterday, I traveled over to Edinburg with my oldest two children, Wyatt and Evie, picked up my grandmother, and honored the graves of over 200 veterans that are no longer with us, including my Marine Corps Grandpa. All while explaining to my children what we are doing and why. I have already had so many proud moments as a parent, but yesterday is at the top of my list. I know Grandpa was smiling down on Wyatt, standing so tall and proud, in his suit and tie that he wore as Mr. Pennypacker in this year’s spring elementary music concert, and chuckling a bit as Evie switched which hand was on her heart a few times during taps, and ended up putting both of them on her heart, not being sure which was her right. And of course we can’t have Memorial Day services without a little bit of rain. But no one complained.
Moments like that are the real reasons for Memorial Day. We must remember those who sacrificed. We must remember why they sacrificed. And by passing down these memories to the next generation, we inspire them to answer the call of duty so our way of life can be preserved.
I ask this of you, each year around the last weekend of May, take a minute to explain to those who aren’t here, what Memorial Day is about. Reach out to those Veterans who aren’t active in the Legion, VFW, DAV, or any other Veteran organizations, and ask them to help carry on the tradition and passing down the stories of our country’s greatest heroes, our buddies.