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The price of freedom

Hundreds turn out for Ely’s Memorial Day cemetery ceremony

by Tom Coombe

Surrounded by more than 1,000 flags in Ely’s vast, spacious cemetery, State Rep. Roger Skraba noted both their symbolism and meaning during a Memorial Day address.

“They all signed up to die for freedom,” Skraba said of the Ely area veterans who had flags at their grave sites.

Skraba, an Ely native, former mayor and Army veteran and current first-term legislator, delivered the keynote address at Monday’s Memorial Day ceremonies.

Hundreds of people, including three World War II veterans, looked on amid sunny skies and near 80-degree readings for the annual event at the cemetery.

Skraba saluted Ely’s veterans, noting those who died in service and others who gave of themselves for a common goal.

“Freedom was what everyone of us signed up for and prepared to give the ultimate sacrifice for,” said Skraba. “The ultimate goal was and is to protect the freedom we enjoy today. Those who gave their lives for this right are who we memorialize today. God rest their souls.”

Skraba told the stories of Coast Guard veterans Angus Nelson MacLean and James Frost, who only this year were recognized for their heroism aboard the cutter Tampa during World War I.

At the time, a flaw in the awards criteria did not allow Coast Guard veterans from getting  Purple Hearts.  That has recently been corrected and Skraba said “just this year the families of Fireman MacLean and First Lieutenant Frost received the medals earned long ago by their heroic ancestors.”

“We do not forget,” said Skraba. “Whether it’s just an hour ago or a century ago, we remember.”

Skraba also asked those in attendance to consider the story of Pascal Poolaw, who was awarded a Purple Heart and Silver Star while serving during World War II and later in Korea.

Poolaw felt compelled to reenlist when his three sons went off to Vietnam, and in 1967, he was killed in battle.

“We are here today for heroes like Pascal Poolaw, who have given all that they can give so that others can enjoy freedom,”  said Skraba.

Skraba also lauded the Native American community, who enlisted in overwhelming numbers during World War II

“Many were also residents of the Ely area and our friends,” said Skraba.

Veterans serve “because we support freedom. I believe all people want freedom.”

“The men and women who died for our freedom represent the diverse patchwork that is the United States of America,” he said. “They are from cities, suburbs, farms. They are white, black, brown. In short, they looked like any of us. Their one common characteristics, and that’s they all took, an oath to die for America if called upon. There are many reasons why we enlist but the dying part doesn’t seem to stop us.”

Skraba’s address capped a program that was traditional in nature, with the cemetery filled with veterans, their families, community members and a cross section of ages.

The event included the recitation of names of 25 Ely area veterans who passed away during the last 12 months. The list was read by local veteran Gerald Tyler, adjutant of American Legion Post 248.

Steve Saari, commander of Ely American Legion Post 248, served as master of ceremonies and saluted three World War II veterans in attendance - Cal Herala, Byron Moren and Gordy Franks.

Saari also saluted those who gave their lives for the nation and asked the audience that “let’s not forget our POWs and MIAs, those who have not returned. Let us keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”

The program included bagpipers Joe Linneman and Mike Lund playing both “Hector the Hero” and “Amazing Grace” along with an invocation by Pastor Craig Haberman.

The event also included the placing of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by members of the Mayranen family.

The national anthem was sung by Elyite Matthew Janeksela and the Ely Honor Guard performed a gun salute to the playing of taps by honor guard commander Ron Forsman.

The event was coordinated by American Legion Post 248, VFW Post 2717 and the American Legion Auxiliary.

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