Still on guard: Larimore Legion color guard member gives final salute to more than 600
LARIMORE, N.D. -- Monday's Memorial Day was a day for reflection and remembrance in honor of the thousands of men and women who gave their lives in service to their country. And in Larimore, it also was a day for Bennie Nowek.
LARIMORE, N.D. - Monday's Memorial Day was a day for reflection and remembrance in honor of the thousands of men and women who gave their lives in service to their country. And in Larimore, it also was a day for Bennie Nowek.
At 96, Nowek is the longest- and oldest-living member of the color guard for the town's Ted Valerius American Legion Post No. 97.
More than 100 dignitaries, veterans, friends and family showed up Monday morning for the special service in the downtown American Legion Club.
Nowek joined the color guard in 1966, and with 51 years under his belt, it appears he's got the role down pat. If there were questions during rehearsal, other men chuckled and deferred to Nowek for pointers.
"I've done it quite a while," Nowek said. "I always watch to make sure their uniform is buttoned. If they're unbuttoned, they are out of uniform ... all those little things."
Nowek, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in the South Asiatic Pacific from 1942 to 1946, figures he has participated with the color guard for more than 600 military funerals.
"If I was able, I was there," he said.
In fact, there were very few he missed, confirmed Sergeant-at-Arms and Larimore Mayor Ray Fegter.
"He's one of the first persons I call when we honor a veteran who's passed away," Fegter said. "And he's only turned me down a couple of times because of a doctor's appointment or family thing. In fact, the guys will ask, 'Where's Bennie at?' "
Nowek said the first funerals he served honored World War I veterans. As part of Monday's ceremony, he was presented with a panoramic, framed photograph of himself and other color guard members honoring fellow World War II veteran Glenn Larson of Fordville, N.D. He died April 2.
Fegter told guests the color guard members felt honored themselves to be able to see a World War II veteran honoring another veteran from the same era.
Another distinguished guest at the service Monday was Duane Mutch, 92. He is the only other surviving World War II veteran in Larimore. He served with the U.S. Army during the Battle of the Bulge.
The ceremonies included patriotic music, a lighting of candles to honor the fallen and also recognition of young artists. Nowek himself visits Larimore students to talk about history.
The military has changed a lot in the years since he first enlisted with buddies Orrin Christianson and Marvin Svedberg. All came back.
"Now, they fly them from place to place," Nowek said. "When I got discharged, they gave me a ride to the gate and they said, 'Good luck.' You were on your own to find your way home."
Taps at cemetery
The rain stopped long enough early Monday afternoon for the color guard to do a separate ceremony at Bellevue Cemetery just outside of Larimore.
There, Nowek took part in a somber three-volley gun salute. Prayers were said and taps were played before the people gathered again for lunch at the American Legion.
"What I like best about our organization is having different generations come together and form a bond," said Post Commander Tad Pulford. "The World War II generation, unfortunately, is dwindling fast. Days like today are special because you get to rub elbows with a World War II vet, and that's not going to happen much longer."