‘This is America’: Grand Cities veterans observe Memorial Day

Grand Forks' American Legion post organized a Memorial Day service at Memorial Park Cemetery.

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Michael Coleman, left, and Albert DeLeon, right, raise the colors at the beginning of a Memorial Day ceremony Monday, May 31, 2021, at Resurrection Cemetery in East Grand Forks. (Korrie Wenzel/Grand Forks Herald)
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Sam Campbell followed his wife into the Air Force and then to Grand Forks, where the couple still live now.

“I fell in love,” the 74-year-old veteran said. He was one of about 200 people who showed up Monday for a Memorial Day ceremony in Grand Forks. The national holiday mourns the deaths of military personnel who died in U.S. wars and other conflicts.

“This is America,” Campbell said. “The camaraderie, people come together to honor the fallen. This is what makes America great.”


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Sam Campbell was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army until he followed his now-wife into the Air Force. He was one of about 200 people who observed Memorial Day at a ceremony on May 31, 2021, at Memorial Park Cemetery in Grand Forks. Joe Bowen/Grand Forks Herald

Mike Brown, the former Grand Forks mayor and current commander of the Treumann-Webb-Phelps American Legion Post 6, emceed a service at Memorial Park Cemetery comprised of poetry readings, short speeches, a firing squad salute and other ceremonies for service members who were never able to figuratively hang up their uniforms.

It was one of two Memorial Day ceremonies held Monday in Greater Grand Forks, occurring shortly before another event began in East Grand Forks, organized jointly by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

At the Grand Forks event, Erica Claus-Numsali, an Air Force veteran, delivered the service’s keynote address. She told attendees that surviving loved ones can find those deceased service members in their hearts.


“We may not only find our heroes, but we can examine what type of country we live in. No matter what critics can say about America, can a nation that produces such remarkable men and women be anything but a force of good?” Claus-Numsali said. “Can we do more to create a country that is worthy of such sacrifice? Can we insist that our policymakers always consider the true cost of their decisions and only send men and women to war when all other options have been fully considered? War is often not the best policy, but the heroes that wars produce are the best of America.”

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Erica Claus-Numsali speaks during her Memorial Day address on Monday, May 31, 2021, at Memorial Park North Cemetery in Grand Forks. (Korrie Wenzel/Grand Forks Herald)

The Legion recently amended its constitution to recognize Americans who died in all wars, not just the “great” ones such as World Wars I and II. That means it includes military members who were killed in covert operations outside of designated wars and in the United States' far-reaching “war on terror.”

“Fallujah and the Philippines, Khe Sanh and Kandahar, Beirut and Grenada,” Claus-Numsali intoned. “The location is unimportant. It is the hearts of these men and women that truly matter.”

Her remarks were based on a yearly speech template published by national Legion administrators, but Claus-Numsali made a few edits of her own to elaborate the lives of Ferdi and Alfred Lebrecht, brothers who fled Germany in the late 1930s and returned as American enlisted men to fight in World War II. Ferdi was killed by a sniper while trying to help wounded soldiers, and Alfred was killed about three weeks later.

Army Specialist Cindy Beaudoin, who was killed by a landmine in the first U.S. invasion of Iraq only a few hours after the war formally ended, received most of the personalized attention in the Legion’s prepared speech. Claus-Numsali wanted to even that out, she said.

“I did the research and found out what happened to them,” she said.


In East Grand Forks, dozens attended a brief ceremony at Resurrection Cemetery, organized by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3817 and American Legion Post 157.

Frank Ringstad, VFW past commander, served as master of ceremonies at the event, which included the raising of the flag, a roll call of departed comrades, the playing of taps and salutes by the VFW and Legion honor guards.

There was no dedicated speaker, but Ringstad and others made brief comments throughout the ceremony.

"We pause to remember this Memorial Day the men and women of our armed forces who have served this country at home and abroad during these many years of our nation's independence. It is a great and sacred trust that brings us together this day," American Legion member Jack Chatt said during the benediction. "We pray for all veterans, those in good health and those wounded still in hospitals around the world, fighting to regain their health. All of these veterans are America's first and finest citizens because they have proven it. We commend to your heavenly father those who have left us a priceless heritage which serves as part of the life and freedom we now enjoy."

As he closed the ceremony, Ringstad thanked the honor guard for its work throughout the year, as well as those who attended the sunny ceremony.

"We dedicate this ceremony in remembrance to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation," he said. "Your attendance here today is greatly appreciated."

A reception was held later at the East Grand Forks VFW post.

The Herald's Korrie Wenzel contributed to this report.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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