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Gone but not forgottenTell North Platte what you think
Photo by George Lauby
Lowering the flag to half mast
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Ft. McPherson
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Presentation of memorial wreaths
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Sgt. Major Richard Burch
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Brooke Ludemann
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Ferguson and Deppen
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Terri Melia

The men and women who gave their lives for freedom were honored Monday at Ft. McPherson National Cemetery, and at the American Legion, volunteers packed gift boxes for Union Pacific workers who are currently on active duty.

Brooke Ludemann sang a stirring National Anthem at Ft. McPherson, and Sgt. Major Richard J. Burch noted the 12 servicemen and women from west central Nebraska who died from 2003-10 during the Iraq war.

Burch said he was humbled to say a few words about those who set aside their personal dreams to serve in the military and were killed.

“We thank God for those who fought,” he said. “They came from every corner of our country, from every walk of life. They are our family, friends and neighbors – ordinary people who made extraordinary sacrifices. Some of them made a sacrifice that we can never repay.”

Ft. McPherson National Cemetery Director William Haggerty noted the recent expansion of Ft. McPherson and the new columbarium that will provide more than 1,000 niches for the ashes. The columbarium will be dedicated in June.

The columbarium and gravesites will provide enough burial space in Ft. McPherson until the year 2055, he said.

Norval Holtmeier of North Platte said Ft. McPherson's history goes back to 1846, and it was officially named Ft. McPherson in 1866.

The national cemetary was established in 1873. What began as a final resting place for those who settled the American West now provides a place of honor for those who have defended the country around the world.

Veterans of the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War and more recent wars are buried at Ft. McPherson.

Currently, there are 10,406 graves in the cemetary, plus 150 markers honoring veterans who are missing, buried at sea or whose ashes were scattered at the cemetery. There are also 85 burial plots for groups of 2-15 -- the remains of those who died together.

The first graves at Ft. McPherson were marked with wooden markers, which deteriorated until no one could read the names, so there are 541 unknown graves.

Boxes for troops

At 10 a.m., about 20 volunteers gathered at the American Legion building to put together boxes of flags, snacks and minor supplies for UP workers who are in the reserves and recently called into active duty.

The day started at 8 a.m. for some of them, as they hoisted flags over the eastbound run-through service bays at Bailey Yard. They flew 65 flags above the yard, then folded and packed each one, along with a certificate of authenticity, to send to those who are serving.

It is the 10th year of the Memorial Day effort, organizer Darren Deppen said.

Terri Melia, whose husband David is in Afghanistan, hoisted the first flag at Bailey Yard at 8 a.m.

“It means a lot,” Terri said, “especially when you know where it’s going. This is an honor. It helps keep me together and connected. It’s a way to pay it forward to others too.”

Deppen said UP worker Ralph Shearing came up with the idea 10 years ago and UP officials were quick to agree, and Shearing put the first effort together in just a couple of weeks. Shearing was unable to attend this year due to poor health. Volunteers wrote good wishes on a UP flag to send to him.

Bruce Ferguson is another key organizer.

UP contributes the flags and the workers raise funds throughout the year.

Another volunteer, Carolyn Gardner, said she is gratified to help the soldiers. Her husband is in the Army and her brother is a UP worker on active duty, which makes it even more meaningful.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 5/27/2013
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