They wore military uniforms, somber suits and T-shirts that alluded to different conflicts. Veterans, families and others gathered Monday at Fort Snelling National Cemetery to honor fallen soldiers from Minnesota.
"To all the veterans here today, who served and didn't return home, the rest of us owe you a debt of great gratitude," Gov. Mark Dayton said. "You set aside your plans, left your families, and risked your lives to safeguard all of us. Thank you."
As he spoke, children in the audience waved American flags, and adults carried bouquets of flowers to place on the graves of loved ones. A rifle salute and the playing of taps echoed through the national burial site.
When U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar gave her tribute, she noted two milestones this year. She said the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division — known as the Red Bulls — was formed 100 years ago, the same year the U.S. entered the fighting in World War I.
"Today we remember those heroes who have fallen," Klobuchar said. "We honor them, we hold their names in our hearts. And we ensure that their sacrifice is never taken for granted."
Hundreds of veterans attended the ceremony, including Richard Thill, 93, a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor from St. Paul. his grandson, Richard Thill III, helped him during a wreath-laying ceremony, as he has done for the last decade.
"It's a special honor, but also emotionally hard," the younger man said. "Sometimes I ask him, 'Why are you doing this? It's tough on you.' He says 'It's the right thing to do, and there's no one else to do it.'"
Retired National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Douglas Julin, who retired in 2012 after leading the Red Bulls, said Memorial Day is the most solemn of national holidays, especially as U.S. soldiers continue to serve in conflict zones.
"We will persevere until victory is won," he said. "This victory, as all the others that have preceded it, comes with a cost as we remember the sacrifices that Americans have made, worldwide, in answering the call of freedom."