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'Freedom isn't Free'
Crowd gathers to remember fallen on Memorial Day
memorial day 2024
A large crowd gathered on Monday, May 27 for the annual Memorial Day remembrance parade and ceremony at Greenwood Cemetery in Monroe. Volunteers placed flags at every former soldier’s grave site and lined the road with American flags. A parade marched from Recreation Park to the cemetery, and the ceremony followed. The event was coordinated by Monroe’s Zilmer-Riley American Legion Post #84 and the Cecil Jones Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #2312. - photo by Gary Mays

MONROE — When it came time to decide where to enjoy part of her Memorial Day weekend, Catherine Rufer said that more than anything purely recreational, she wanted to attend an event to help her family remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

So as the weekend’s cloudy skies finally gave way to some sun and warmth early Monday, the Air National Guard Veteran and her family ventured out to Greenwood Cemetery — with over a hundred others — to enjoy the day by honoring those who served at the city’s annual ceremony and parade.

Rufer was joined at Greenwood Cemetery by her husband, Chad, and their children, Bridget and Leon. When the morning event ended, she said the group planned to hang out with local family for the remainder of the holiday weekend.

memorial day 2024
More than a hundred people gathered at Greenwood Cemetery in Monroe for the annual Memorial Day remembrance ceremony. Members from the Monroe High School Marching Band played music in the parade from Recreation Park, through the Avenue of the Flags and to the center flag pole at the cemetery. - photo by Gary Mays

“We live in America, we love our veterans and we are thankful to them,” Catherine Rufer said. “I think it is really important for my children to see this.”

As they have in the past, the Zilmer-Riley American Legion Post #84 and the Cecil Jones Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #2312 invited the community to join them as they honored all local veterans.

Prior to the event, the Avenue of Flags was put up, and starting early in the morning, each veteran’s grave was identified, decorated, and saluted individually. That was an honor and duty of many local Boy Scout volunteers, working with the older veteran groups to ensure that no one in the cemetery was missed.

At just after 9 a.m., the parade — featuring the Monroe High School Marching band — wound its way to the cemetery’s center from an assembly point at Recreation Park. The flag was carried by a combined color guard from members of the American Legion and VFW. 

memorial day parade 2024
Poppy Princess Alexys Crooks waves to the gathering crowd during the parade. - photo by Gary Mays

Children waived flags and veterans waived back from the parade as emergency vehicles blared and drums helped marchers keep time. Following a 21-gun salute, the ceremony turned more solemn, as the names of all Green County Veterans who died over the past year were read aloud, and a bell sounded for each one.

Area lawyer Peter Kelly — former Green County Commissioner of Courts and currently serving in Lafayette County — delivered the main address of the day, urging all to remember as often as possible.

“That’s why these things are so important,” he told the crowd, which included dozens of area veterans, young and old. “There are children who must hear and see it all.”

Kelly said at a time when some are trying to rewrite history in this country, and forget the sacrifice of veterans, it is more important than ever to tell everyone how we arrived at a place of freedom for all.

“Keep those stories of veterans from fading from our national memory,” he said. “Freedom isn’t free.”

kids memorial day 2024
Young parade goers wave the American Flag during Monroe’s Memorial Day processional. - photo by Gary Mays

Post Commander Janel Keizer began the day’s ceremony with opening remarks, followed by an invocation and the performing of the national anthem by the Monroe High School Band and Chamber Choir. Students also read reverently from historical documents, including the Gettysburg Address.

Indeed, Kelly started his speech by noting the sacrifice of local soldiers in the Civil War and the untrained but dedicated volunteers that fought to preserve the union. 

Kelly spoke of how just one man, a teacher from Maine, helped defend a key spot on the second day at Gettysburg — with what turned out to be fixed bayonets by the end of the bloody battle, which the lone teacher and his unit of volunteers helped turn in the union’s favor.

After the parade and main Memorial Day ceremony, a bench dedication ceremony and potluck were held at Zilmer-Riley American Legion Post #84.