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Hanson memorial dedicated at Maplewood State Park

American flags were flying on Saturday, Aug. 30 -- at the home of Bob and Kathy Hanson and at Maplewood State Park, where a new picnic shelter was dedicated to honor the Hansons' son, Staff Sergeant Joshua Hanson.

Josh celebrated his 27th birthday on Aug. 22, 2006, and on Aug. 30, he was killed in action in Iraq. His father Bob is the park manager at Maplewood, and his mother Kathy is also employed by the state park service.

A strong breeze snapped the 51 flags held by members of the Patriot Guard Riders to show honor, dignity, and respect to those who serve in the military. The Patriot Guard flag line encircled the shelter, located on a hill overlooking the south arm of Lake Lida.

Members of the VFW Post 5252 and the American Legion Post 17 from Pelican Rapids formed the color guard, standing at attention through the nearly two hour ceremony.

David Knopf is retired from the National Guard and is credited by many for being a major force behind raising money, materials, and labor to bring the shelter to completion. He says, "It was what we did for family, soldiers, and park visitors. It takes a lot of people to make an event like this become a reality."

He also observed that it was a beautiful day to recognize that "we can make something good out of a bad event."

Plans were originally made to keep the ceremony under an hour, but when it came time for opening remarks, it was reported that 75 people were still lined up at the park entrance.

An unofficial car count showed 359 vehicles entering the park during the time of the dedication. †Nearly one thousand people flowed out from formal seating under the shelter to picnic tables, benches, rocks and bare ground.

The Band of Faith, led by Mike Nettestad of Pelican Rapids, played patriotic tunes until the program began with opening remarks from Knopf.

Knopf's son Justin served with Josh and was with him when he was killed.

Speakers included John Nordstrom, the past president of the Friends of Maplewood who first introduced the shelter idea.

Nordstrom envisioned future use of the shelter to include wedding, anniversary and great celebrations with "laughing, sharing, and having a good time."

He added, "They will read here about Josh and pause to remember those who served."

The program also included Mark Holsten, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner, who departed from prepared remarks to comment on the people gathered in community, and Major General Larry Shellito the Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General who said, "What we have in front of us right now is a symbol in honor of Josh and his comrades."

Josh's younger brother, Jake, talked about memories of Josh and remarked that in years to come people would come to the shelter and "will remember Josh and those like him."

Jake then sang a song he had written only two days earlier with a poignant refrain, "Now I can't believe I can only see him in my dreams."

The final flag of the day was added by members of Josh's Alpha Company, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry out of Detroit Lakes, who stood as a group through the ceremony.

As his buddies slowly and reverently raised the stars and stripes up the pole in front of the shelter dedicated to the memory of Joshua Hanson, an eagle soared in the distance.