Banner Display pays tribute to South Dakota's fallen heroes
Dakota Digest - 05/30/2010
By Jim Kent
Memorial Day is a time for remembering servicemen - and women - who've passed on, especially those who've given their lives in combat. Today we visit with residents of the Hot Springs community as they pay tribute to South Dakota's fallen military personnel.
It's quiet inside the Mueller Center in Hot Springs. That's the sound of the respect being shown for those from South Dakota who've fallen in the line of duty.
"Well. we have banners here in loving memory of all our fallen heroes from here in South Dakota," says Bruce Lewis. "We're just showing our...uh...appreciation, love and respect. And it's a blessing for us to have....to be able to...uh...remember our fallen soldiers."
Bruce Lewis is a former soldier and a veteran of Operation Iraqi freedom. He's also part of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars / American Legion contingent standing guard over the Fallen Heroes Banner Display at the Mueller Center.
The Fallen Heroes memorial was conceived by National Guard chaplain Lynn Wilson as a way to honor those South Dakota military personnel who've given their lives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Mueller Center's large, open room is usually used for Election Day voting, community festivals or the Miss South Dakota pageant. This day, twenty-eight, six-by-three foot blue banners layered over images of the American flag stand on metal frames spaced around one end of the auditorium in a horseshoe shape. Bruce Lewis reads each banner, which includes a serviceman's name, personal information and photograph.
"We have in loving memory of PFC. Gunner Becker...Forestburg, South Dakota...United States Army," reads Lewis. "He was born one, twenty-two, nineteen-eighty five....to one, thirteen, two-thousand and five. And he served his time in Iraq."
For Lewis, seeing the faces of those who didn't make it home has a deep impact.
"I get a sense of guilt...sometimes...because I made it back and a lot of my fellow brothers didn't," Lewis explains. "It almost makes me want to go in and fight some more, you know," he adds with a nervous laugh, ".when I see another fallen soldier go down. It's hard to deal with."
"Hard to deal with" describes the feelings of most of those community members visiting the display -
civilian or veteran, regardless of age or gender.
"My name is Lois Emery," says and elderly woman. "And I live in the Hot Springs area. I wanted to see if I knew any of the people whose pictures were displayed."
I ask her if she does.
"No," she replies. "It's.....it's saddening to see this many young men....who've given their lives, I think."
Joe Schneller is a former Marine.
" I just wanted to come down and just," Schneller says, pausing as his voice breaks.. "It...just puts it in perspective. I feel humbled. I feel honored that these men .stood up when the nation called."
"Well, in the first couple of pictures that I've seen it's really sobering to see just how young these guys are," notes Becky Stout. "And just to see that they've given their lives for people that they don't even know."
"It...it makes me look to my own life," says David Brown. "Am I living an honorable life? Cause these guys died o serve us and...am, am I leading a life that would somehow honor that?"
"I was in the National Guard," recalls Norman L. Ostre.m. "On active duty with the Yankton and Vermillion units during the Berlin crisis. And I just feel that it...it's a hard thing. And, yet, when I see these guys and I see the look on their faces and the determination in all of these guys...I'm really proud of .our younger people."
Viewing the Fallen Heroes Banner Display is, perhaps, most difficult for a parent whose child is on active duty and set to go into a combat zone, says Marilyn Kotti.
"Our son's an Air Force physician," Kotti explains. "He'll be on one of those planes that's like an ICU in the sky. So, he'll see the hardest things and, hopefully, he can help the hardest things."
I ask when her son will leave for deployment.
"This summer," she replies.
Notwithstanding, George Kotti feels the same as every person interviewed at the Mueller Center, regardless of their personal views on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"It's something that's very important for a community to see," George Kotti. "It puts faces to the names that have sacrificed their lives for our country. And, uh, I think we need to see those faces to realize that those people are real people."
The banners honoring those "real people" are on display in Pierre, as part of the Post 8 American Legion Memorial Day events.
The Banner Display is available to individuals or groups across the state who would also like to honor the memories of South Dakota's fallen heroes.
The Fallen Heroes Banner Display moves to the Air and Space Museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base from June 1 to June 16.
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