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Air Force veteran challenges Memorial Day program attendees to take time to honor those who have served

Parades, picnics, fishing and fun for all ages: The Memorial Day weekend is, for most U.S. residents, the official kickoff to summer. But in Detroit Lakes, guest speaker Major Shaun Carlson urged those in attendance at the holiday observance to remember that it's really all about honoring those military members, past and present, who have volunteered to lay down their lives in service to their country.

The Lake Region Veterans Color Guard started off the Memorial Day Parade festivities in Detroit Lakes on Monday, May 30, 2022. It was the first time a parade had been held for the holiday in Detroit Lakes since 2019.
The Lake Region Veterans Color Guard started off the Memorial Day Parade festivities in Detroit Lakes on Monday, May 30, 2022. It was the first time a parade had been held for the holiday in Detroit Lakes since 2019.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES — U.S. Air Force Major Shaun Carlson started off his Memorial Day guest speaker remarks in Detroit Lakes on Monday by stating he'd struggled to find words that weren't sobering, until he pondered, "What if that's OK?"

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U.S. Air Force Major Shaun Carlson, of Detroit Lakes, was the guest speaker at a Memorial Day program held Monday, May 30, 2022, at the Detroit Lakes Pavilion.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

After all, he said, Memorial Day is, at its core, a somber occasion: It's about remembering those U.S. service men and women who have died in service to their country — over 1.3 million of them since the beginning of the American Civil War, which remains the most deadly conflict for U.S. soldiers to date, with over 620,000 deaths.

It was after the Civil War concluded, on May 5, 1868, that General John A. Logan called for a nationwide day of remembrance, stating, "The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

That day, May 30, became known as Decoration Day, and was declared a national holiday in 1938. Gradually, it evolved into what we now know as Memorial Day, which became its official title in 1971, when the Congressional designation also declared that it was to be observed on the last Monday in May of each year — making it part of a three-day holiday weekend.

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The Avenue of Flags at Detroit Lakes' Oak Grove Cemetery was a busy place on Monday, May 30, 2022, as Memorial Day visitors took turns driving beneath the canopy of trees along the flag-lined pathways. More than 650 full-size cotton flags were displayed at the cemetery throughout the weekend, along with about 1,400 smaller flags placed at the gravesites of veterans buried at Oak Grove.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

"As you enjoy the long weekend each year, take a moment to remember those who laid down their lives to protect this country, its freedoms and the lives we can enjoy today," Carlson said.

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He spoke at length about how many service veterans struggle after returning home from combat: Since 2001, more than 114,000 veterans have died by suicide — "my uncle was one of them," Carlson said — and, depending on the military branch in which they serve, up to 31% of service members develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, after returning from combat. More than 1 in 10 U.S. veterans have been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, and veterans account for more than 9% of all adults experiencing homelessness across the country.

"More than 45% of veterans with combat experience — almost half — describe the transition (to civilian life) as difficult," Carlson said, adding, "There are many ways to help. Sometimes, it can be as simple as asking how someone is doing."

He also said Memorial Day provides an opportunity not just to remember those who have fallen, but all those who have served, and to thank them for their service. He then asked all veterans in the audience to stand up and be recognized.

Carlson noted during his presentation that all men and women who currently serve in the military have volunteered to do so, as the last time the U.S. implemented a draft was in 1973.

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Despite the cloudy skies that threatened rain, a nice crowd turned out for Monday morning's Memorial Day Parade through downtown Detroit Lakes, which included entries from the Lake Region Veterans Color Guard, VFW, American Legion and DAV, just to name a few.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

He challenged those in the audience to take part in the national "moment of remembrance," which is designated for 3 p.m. local time, on Memorial Day — and to set reminders on their digital calendars to repeat that moment of silence each year.

Carlson, who makes his home with his family in Detroit Lakes, has been a member of the North Dakota Air National Guard since 1997; he plans to retire from the USAF in July.

His 25-year service record includes deployments in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi as well as a stint in Washington, D.C. Currently, he serves in the Inspector General’s office as the continuous process improvement manager for the 119th Wing. He also works with Arvig in Perham and serves on the Detroit Lakes Planning Commission.

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In addition to those who marched at the front of Monday's Memorial Day Parade, the Lake Region Veterans Color Guard had a float, driven by Jerry Doyea, who waved cheerfully to the crowd along with other veterans who rode on the float.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Monday's Memorial Day program at the Detroit Lakes Pavilion was preceded by a parade down Washington Avenue — the first such parade to be held in Detroit Lakes since 2019, as it had been canceled because of the pandemic in both 2020 and 2021.

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The holiday festivities also included the Avenue of Flags display at Oak Grove Cemetery, where more than 650 flags waved in the breeze throughout the weekend. Hundreds drove through the cemetery to view the display, which has occurred every Memorial Day weekend since 1990.

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Detroit Lakes High School Band Director Tim Siewert greeted early visitors to Oak Grove Cemetery's Avenue of Flags with his rendition of "Taps" after the Memorial Day program at the Detroit Lakes Pavilion on Monday, May 30, 2022. The cemetery was decorated with more than 650 large American flags that flew throughout the holiday weekend.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes tribune

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.
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