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Fallen soldiers from the past; those who serve today honored

Perham's Sgt. James Bakkila spoke on May 25 for Memorial Day.

An overflow crowd paid their respects to those who served--and serve--their country at Memorial Day ceremonies in Perham May 25.

"While we revere and cherish the memory of those who have come before, we are reminded to do everything within our power to support our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen," said Sgt. James Bakkila, a Perham resident and present Army Guardsman with 22 years in the Armed Forces.

More than 200 jammed into the "In Their Own Words" Veterans Museum for the solemn program of message and music.

Members and Auxiliary of both VFW Post 4020 and American Legion 61 hosted the ceremony, which included a Memorial roll call, flag folding ceremony and group sing alongs of patriotic tunes.

Featured at the podium, in addition to Bakkila, were Acting Commander Gary Menz; Officer of the Day Delbert Lauer, Chaplain Larry Kempenich, VFW Auxiliary President Millie Lauer, Legion Commander Norman Hayden, American Legion President Harriet Mattfeld, and VFW Chaplain John Knight.

In his opening remarks, Perham Mayor Kevin Keil selected a Bible passage appropriate for Memorial Day:

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends," from John 15:13.

"The American Flag represents a Democratic government chosen by the people, free enterprise where people can start their own business, an education system where people, with a little hard work, can learn to become whatever they desire, or the freedom to just be you," said Mayor Keil in his remarks.

"Today, Memorial Day 2009, the American Flag waves for more than that," continued Keil. "It waves in recognition of the over one million soldiers who gave their lives defending the freedoms we all enjoy each day. It waves to honor those men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice."

For the second year, the Masonic Lodges of Perham and Wadena hosted a Belgian waffle breakfast--and served a total of 710 breakfasts, according to Perham Lodge spokesman Wayne Johnson.

A Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal recipient, SFC Bakkila lead several local soldiers in Iraq. Among them, the late Josh Hanson and Greg Riewer, area residents who died in action. Perham graduate Lucas Schmitz, who lost his leg in action in Iraq, was also in his platoon. Others from the area were Brian Schmidt, Joseph Butler and Milton Rust.

"The sacrifices of our comrades are sometimes forgotten or disregarded, especially by those who have gained the most from it," continued Sgt. Bakkila in his message to the Memorial Day crowd. "History has proven that--if not for those we honor today--a heavy fist of tyranny and terror would still shackle and strangle many countries that are enjoying relatively recent freedom and democracy."

Bakkila has served as Supply Sergeant at the Detroit Lakes Armory and since 2003, the "Red Bull Warrior" has been in charge of Army National Guard Readiness officer and training manager at the Detroit Lakes and Bemidji training centers.

Singing solo selections at the ceremony was LaVonne Bjerk. Pianist Russ Bunker accompanied Bjerk and also performed a stunning piano arrangement of "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Members of the Perham High School orchestra opened the program with the National Anthem; and also performed a special selection.