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Memorial Day ceremonies and parade

by Patrick Misner

contributing reporter

The Memorial Day Parade made its way through Lowell on Monday May 27th. It began at the fair grounds, stopped at the Veteran’s Memorial for a short prayer and twenty-one gun salute, and finished with a ceremony at the cemetery led by Dirk Ritzema.

Herman Weststrate was the parade marshal for the event and was at the fair grounds organizing the parade participants before the 10 am start time. He got involved with the parade through working with the VFW where he is currently the commander of Post 8303 in Lowell.

“I have been in the parade since 2002. I have been the parade marshal for the past 6 years… We have a lot of slots to fill, and since I am the commander, that [is] my role,” said Weststrate. 

He also walked in the parade with other members of the VFW including Joel Frueh. This was not Freuh’s first parade.

Freuh said, “I am usually down here every year. I got out [of the Marine Corps] in 2008. I was in there [from] 2000 to 2008, served two terms in Iraq.”

The recently formed American Heritage Girls chapter in Lowell also walked in the parade led by Jennie Forney and Juliet Hoak. Hoak said, “our mission is building women of integrity through service to God, family, and community.”

They also took part in the Memorial Day ceremony in Muskegon yesterday at the USS Silversides Submarine Museum.

“[The girls] carried the service flags in and then did the flower rings, so they did the ringing of the bells for a lost boat ceremony, and they dropped off flowers in the water for every submarine lost in World War II. They asked us to be part of the ceremony because we had camped there over spring break. We did a night on the Silversides with the girls,” said Forney.

The parade made a stop at the Veteran’s Memorial across from Flat River Grill on Main Street and then ended in the cemetery. Dirk Ritzema noted the pleasant weather at the beginning of the ceremony saying, “What a difference a year makes. Remember last year? It was about 90 degrees out here while the sun was beating down on us and we were just melting away. I’m glad we got a little bit of a breeze this morning. It is a nice day out.”

Ritzema next introduced the Lowell High School band, which played the Star Spangled Banner followed by the local Cub Scouts troop leading the Pledge of Allegiance. Rev. Glen Martin gave an invocation and blessing for the ceremony that recognized the many veteran’s that have sacrificed for the United States.

The Lowell High School Rock Fusion Orchestra played music while different individuals from local organizations placed flowers at the Civil War Memorial in the cemetery. The Lowell mayor, Mike Deboer, the Kent County Youth Fair Court, Lowell Women’s Club, Senior Neighbors, Lowell Gilda’s Club and Pink Arrow Project, Flat River Outreach Ministries, Lowell Rotary Club, and LowellArts all presented flowers during the ceremony. 

Michael Burns, the Lowell city manager, gave a speech for the event. He began his speech by thanking the many people that have served in the armed forces, their families, as well as the people that organized this year’s parade and ceremony. He particularly thanked Sgt. Lucas Beechnauw, who was a 2004 graduate of Lowell and was killed in 2010.

“Sgt. Lucas Beechnauw served our country in Afghanistan as a squad leader of the 173rd airborne infantry in the United States Army," Burns said. "Sgt. Beechnauw was tragically killed in a firefight with Taliban fighters on January 13, 2010 in Afghanistan. If you recall, the statue at the Veteran’s Memorial downtown of the soldier’s boot, M16, bayonet, and helmet on top of it is dedicated in his honor. People such as Sgt. Beechnauw are [the] reason why our great nation has the freedom it does today.”

Burns concluded, “We are able to be here today largely thanks to those who are not. There are many ways you can keep our fallen as well as our injured and ill veterans in your heart and mind throughout the year. If you are so inclined, organizations like the American Legion, VFW, and many other organizations offer countless ways to give back to those who endured the physical, psychological, and emotional wounds of war. They could be driving your veteran to a medical appointment, befriending a veteran who lives alone or in a nursing facility, or reaching out to the veteran who just left military service. Please reach out to find ways you can help engage and be a part of the effort to care for those who served. Working together with friends, neighbors, veteran’s groups, and entire communities, we can ensure the sacrifices made by our nation’s finest and bravest never go unappreciated and that their memories are never forgotten. I thank you all for joining in today’s tribute; I hope you keep our military men and women and the sacrifices they made close to your heart today and throughout the rest of the year.”

Ritzema then read off the names of local military veterans that have passed away since last Memorial Day while an Eagle Scout rang a bell for each name read. The ceremony ended with a playing of taps by Jack Misner on trumpet followed by the high school band playing America the Beautiful as people departed.

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