SIKESTON - A warm breeze wafted across Veterans Park Monday morning, rippling the flags as the crowd gathered for the 21st annual Memorial Day Service.
Among those taking a spot in the shade were Betty Mitchell and her grandsons. She explained she wants the boys to be aware of their country and their history.
Seven-and-a-half year-old Jay Lape was impressed by the soldiers, in particular the 21-gun-salute.
Collin Lape, also 7 1/2, knew of his great-grandfather's military service. "This is an honor," he said.
The service, said Blair Moran who organized the event along with members of the Veterans Park Committee, is "to recognize the service and sacrifice of those who gave the ultimate - their lives for our freedom."
It was also a chance to recognize those who served and are serving in the nation's military.
For guest speaker First Lt. Alec Petersen, who is a member of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., it was an opportunity to recall some of the heroism he has witnessed while serving most recently in a forward operating base on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Describing it as "an unnerving place to spend a year," Petersen explained his post was remote and he and the other soldiers' mission was to intercept insurgents as they crossed the border from Pakistan.
He recalled being awakened by the sound of a bomb blast. Soon he learned a car bomb had exploded outside of the gate of the outpost some 10 miles away.
A young soldier standing duty on a machine gun tower had spotted a truck approaching. Identifying it as the enemy, the soldier shot and killed the driver and stopped the truck, which then blew up.
Shrapnel from the explosion struck the soldier in the face, knocking out his front teeth and to the ground. Petersen said the soldier was able to return to his machine gun and continued to engage the enemy.
Because of the soldier's actions, "he saved countless lives," Petersen said.
While this soldier survived, Petersen continued, there "are other heros who are often forgotten."
In particular, the speaker said, this includes the families at home who sacrifice as their loved ones serve. "Their sacrifice and heroism continues daily," he said.
Citing the final scene in "Saving Private Ryan," Petersen said it is only by the grace of God that he and audience were there to pay respects to those who have died while serving their country and not the other way around. "It is our job," he concluded, "to prove we are worthy (of their sacrifice)."