Memorial Day: We are here, because they are there
The lives and memories of those who've served was brought back to life during Wadena's annual Memorial Day address.
WADENA — The Wadena community took in a historic look at the wars fought over the years by the many men and women that make up our armed forces. They also got a glimpse at how it looked through the eyes of local historian, farmer and veteran Clarence Horsager.
Horsager started out his address by pointing towards the mock grave site on the stage of Wadena's Memorial Auditorium. It's a memorial set up each year by members of the Wadena VFW and Ladies Auxiliary, though usually done in the Wadena Cemetery. Weather pushed the event indoors this year. The women take turns placing wreaths in memory of the various wars fought and the lives lost in those events.
"Why are we here?" Horsager asked. "The answer is, we are here, because they are there, and freedom is not free. That grave stands as a memorial to all, men and women. It especially includes all those who paid the supreme sacrifice and also respects all veterans."
Horsager shared his story of service from his 90-plus years on this earth. While his early years were without war, much of the rest of his life has been affected by war or rumors of war.
He can first recall Hitler invading Poland and the destruction of democracy.
Horsager spoke of the great General Leslie McNair, a native of Verndale, Minn., who was said to be the brains of the U.S. Army and who was greatly feared by Hitler. A plaque honoring McNair's memory stands in Verndale's McNair Park.
Horsager can recall scrap buyers scouring North Dakota, where he grew up, looking for scrap iron in the late 1930s. Horsager's father was hesitant to sell iron as the Japanese were buying up scrap metal. His father was afraid that if they sold it off, they'd see it come back at them.
He can recall picking milkweed pods that would be used in life preservers for those serving.
"As the war went on I remember kids crying in the halls of school as sad news had come home," Horsager said.
In 1952, with the Korean War raging, Horsager volunteered to serve. He said he felt the need to serve as others had done for him. Many of his friends were already serving.
He served in the Airborne as a paratrooper. He said that a paratrooper got a bonus of $50 a month hazard pay, enough "to buy a nice Holstein heifer calf."
He can remember taking a rail car to the front lines and seeing the devastation all around them. Young Korean men serving before them, those that survived, could be seen walking around with wooden stick legs. He can recall the nights being lit up like daylight from all the firing and flares.
He recalls returning from Korea in 1954. He remembers sailing into Seattle. He and 5,500 others were greeted with music and celebrations. He is still bothered by the fact that some others who have served have not been treated in the same way.
"Where would this world be today were it not for one country, the United States of America, and our people?" Horsager asked. "We are proudly made up of people from every country on the planet. Rich and poor, young and old, Native Americans, Black, white, brown — all wanting what we have, the opportunity from the bottom up to be all you can be."
Horsager closed by asking the gathered group how they hope to be remembered. Horsager read the preamble of the Constitution, and asked the community to cling to the words of that document.
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."'