Donald Lohse, a 22-year Navy veteran, was shopping for a new flagpole to install at his home recently. He was greeted by a cashier who wished him a "happy Memorial Day."

Trying to be polite, Lohse reminded the young man that Memorial Day was not a happy day.

"It's not a happy occasion, it's a sad, memorial occasion," Lohse said. In explaining further why it's sad, the young man understood and said he'd not make that mistake again.

Lohse became emotional in sharing what Memorial Day was about to him as he addressed a large crowd gathered at the Memorial Day program in Wadena Cemetery on Monday. To his father, it was Decoration Day. Growing up, Lohse said Memorial Day always involved visiting the cemetery to remember the veterans that, in some cases, gave it all.

"Today it's a three day paid holiday, we get the day off, we don't have to work, we get paid, we go to the lake, we barbecue, we get drunk, we party with our families."

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Navy veteran and past commander of the Jenkins VFW Post Donald Lohse gave the Memorial Day address Monday, May 31, 2021, during the program in Wadena Cemetery.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Navy veteran and past commander of the Jenkins VFW Post Donald Lohse gave the Memorial Day address Monday, May 31, 2021, during the program in Wadena Cemetery. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

"That's not what it's about folks," he continued. "Not to me. Maybe it is to some."

"It's about honoring the past veterans," Lohse said with emphasis.

That's what the crowd of people came for that day. It was easy to see the amount of veterans that have served this country from the Wadena area as around 650 American flags were placed by graves of veterans on the Wednesday before Memorial Day in the Wadena Cemetery alone. VFW Post 3922 member Jimmie White explained that there's over 700 not far away, in Staples Evergreen Cemetery. This area has a lot of men and women who served the country.

In the days before Memorial Day, VFW Post 3922 members Jimmy White (left) and Phil Thonnes place flags throughout the Wadena Cemetery, marking the graves of veterans.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
In the days before Memorial Day, VFW Post 3922 members Jimmy White (left) and Phil Thonnes place flags throughout the Wadena Cemetery, marking the graves of veterans. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

War took the lives of many but more and more are lost each day to illness or natural causes.

"Last year, our post lost 12 members. Three to COVID, nine to cancer and old age," Lohse said of the Jenkins Post, of which he is a former commander.

Lohse, who said he forgot his program notes he was going to share, put together a moving talk about the importance of Memorial Day. He was backed up by Elmer Goche Post 3922 Commander Phil Thoennes, the Wadena-Deer Creek high school band and Pastor Stephen Meltzer, of St. John's Lutheran Church in Wadena.

Wadena-Deer Creek graduate Emma Bushinger plays "Taps" Monday, May 31, 2021, during the Memorial Day program in Wadena.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Wadena-Deer Creek graduate Emma Bushinger plays "Taps" Monday, May 31, 2021, during the Memorial Day program in Wadena. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

"To memorialize the dead is to pay homage not only to the fallen but also to their spirit of sacrifice and valor," Meltzer prayed during the event.

Thonnes thanked all those who gave part of their day to take part in the event.

VFW Post 3922 Commander Phil Thoennes welcomes the crowds to the Memorial Day program, Monday, May 31, 2021.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
VFW Post 3922 Commander Phil Thoennes welcomes the crowds to the Memorial Day program, Monday, May 31, 2021. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Also part of the program was the Elmer Goche Post 3922 Color Guard and Auxiliary. Following the program, those who died at sea were honored at the Veteran's Park near Sunnybrook Park.

WDC graduate Tony Kreklau plays "America, the Beautiful" with the band Monday, May 31, 2021, during the Memorial Day program in Wadena.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
WDC graduate Tony Kreklau plays "America, the Beautiful" with the band Monday, May 31, 2021, during the Memorial Day program in Wadena. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Ruth Clark of the Elmer Goche VFW Post 3922 Auxiliary pays respect after laying a wreath for those lost to war Monday, May 31, 2021.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Ruth Clark of the Elmer Goche VFW Post 3922 Auxiliary pays respect after laying a wreath for those lost to war Monday, May 31, 2021. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal