Minnesotans paid their respects Monday morning to U.S. military veterans as part of a Memorial Day service at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty told the massive crowd that on a day of remembrance, it's important to reflect on the human cost of freedom.
"We as a nation owe so much to a relatively small percentage of the population that raises their hands, step forward, and says, 'As my nation needs me, I will go. I will put aside for a year or longer my family, my community commitments, my place of worship, my hobbies, my recreation, my job -- and if need be, I'll lay down my life,'" Pawlenty said to the assembled crowd.
Pawlenty was joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar. The featured speaker was Lt. Colonel John Morris, a chaplain with the 34th Infantry Division.
Morris emotionally recounted his encounters with U.S. service members who were killed while fighting in Iraq.
Morris was stationed in Fallujah in 2004 when one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Iraq broke out.
"And once again, Memorial Day became real. Beautiful young men who came to Easter Sunday service, now memorialized and shipped home in a body bag," Morris said.
Morris said the holiday is a time for him to grieve and remember. He recently returned from Iraq as chaplain of the 34th Infantry Division, known as the Red Bulls.
He also helped create a Minnesota program that helps returning combat veterans reintegrate into their home communities. The "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" program is considered a national model.
Around the state, thousands of Minnesotans were spending the holiday honoring the nation's war dead.