Sacrifice and ceremony at Union Grove Veterans Memorial Cemetery
From the ceremonial flyover, to the POW/MIA table, the Battle Field Cross and the rifle salute to the lone trumpet playing “Taps,” the Memorial Day rituals are familiar for veterans and military families.
Sunday’s commemoration at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery was filled with ceremony, symbolism and tradition.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he has been going to this event every year since the first one after 9/11.
“I’ve been here when it’s cold, I’ve been here when it’s hot, I’ve been here when it’s raining ...” Vos said.
But Vos said every year is different, and not just because of the weather.
“The saddest part is whenever I come here, there are more people who have sacrificed their lives,” he said.
The ceremony was standing room only, with crowds of people spread across the damp grass. U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., was moved by the turnout.
“When you see that, you realize how lucky we are to live in a community like this,” said Steil, whose district includes all of Racine County.
The line-up of representatives included Vos, Steil, Gov. Tony Evers and Mary Kolar, Evers’ secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, all of whom spoke of the lives lost in far-flung conflicts over the decades and the families left behind.
“It was beautiful,” said Evers. “It was one of those days you set aside partisan things to recognize the sacrifices our armed-service members make.”
After the ceremony, members of the Wisconsin Independent Pipers and the Milwaukee Metro Pipe and Drum Band lingered around the cemetery to enable families to ask them to play a song at their loved one’s grave.
Stevan Keith of Milwaukee comes from a family of veterans, although he is not one himself. He said the experience of playing for these families is “very humbling” for him.
“Because of all these people who are buried buried here who dedicated their careers and lives to this country,” said Keith.
Bob Lannin of Milwaukee said he has been piping for 10 years and has gone to the Memorial Day ceremony in Dover for seven. He has friends and acquaintances buried in the cemetery, and his family also served in the armed forces, though he did not.
He said he gets choked up thinking about the families he plays for at their loved one’s grave.
“I think it’s a way for them to give some kind of gift to their loved one,” he said.
Last year, a woman asked him to play at her son’s grave. He had survived his post-9/11 service, but took his own life after returning home.
“We need to take care of them better than we are,” said Lannin.
Lannin saw his bagpiping as a small way to give back to those families and mark the day.
“Every year I’m touched,” he said. “It’s time for barbecues and beaches later — you’ve got to do this first.”