Salinians Pay Tribute to Service Men and Women Who Died in Service to America

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A member of the Washtenaw County Honor Guard stands behind the grave of Corporal Russell Michalke. The Saline High School graduate was killed by small arms fire in Vietnam before the age of 20 on May 24, 1968

At a Memorial Day program Monday, the Saline community paid tribute to Americans who gave the "last full measure of devotion" in service to their country.

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The 35-minute program at Oakwood Cemetery featured speeches, prayers, and patriotic songs. Following the program, the Saline American Legion Post 322 hosted a hot dog lunch sponsored by Robison-Bahnmiller Funeral Home.

David Saims, Post Commander for Saline American Legion Post 322, salutes the flag during the playing of America the Beautiful

David Saims, Post Commander for Saline American Legion Post 322, told the crowd of about 200 that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Memorial Day activities weren't typical. For example, the annual parade was canceled again. And, Saims said, some of the annual barbecues and backyard chats have been replaced by video conferencing and Zoom calls.

What COVID-19 hasn't changed are the feelings conjured by Memorial Day - the day we honor the soldiers who died in service to our country.

"The memories and emotions this day brings are always the same," Saims said. "Memorial Day is a day unlike any other. Since 1868, we've come together in our communities, cities and towns to place flowers and flags on the graves of those who have given their last full measure of devotion to our country. We have come here to honor those who have done their duty and never asked anything in return other than to be respected and remembered for protecting and our way of life."

Saims said American soldiers died in defense our our rights.

"It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given the freedom of the press. It's the soldier, not the poet, who gave us the freedom of speech. It's the soldier, not the politician, that ensures our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Saims said. "It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag."

Saims urged everyone to take a few minutes of the holiday to reflect on the sacrifices made by American soldiers.

Saline Mayor Brian Marl addresses the Memorial Day crowd at Oakwood Cemetery.

City of Saline Mayor Brian Marl spoke of the way Americans responded to the threat of fascism in World War II. He noted the armed forces grew from just over 450,000 members to more than 12 million members.

"Inspired by (the words of President Franklin Roosevelt) and a desire that every man, woman and child be free, Americans responded in dramatic fashion. Our soldiers liberated Europe, shuttered death camps and freed much of Southeast Asia," Marl said. "America brought peace to a world devastated by war. Our soldiers not only preserved freedom at home, they extended it abroad. But, of course, this came at a terrible cost. More than 10 percent of those who returned never returned home."

Alaina Dorset, Drum Major for the Saline High School Marching Band, leads the band through America the Beautiful.

Marl said that sacrifice is why America is an exceptional place.

"Let's not forget that each subsequent generation of Americans has worked to extend freedoms to those left out or left behind," Marl said. "This really is a remarkable place. And it's worth fighting for."

For America to retain its strength, Marl said, citizens must continue to revere and honor its protectors and those who serve causes "greater than themselves."

Marl then called on Americans to look past differences and divisions and remember that "we're all Americans."

"Despite all the ways we may be divided, we are one country, one precious democracy. We are the United States," Marl said.

Emcee Tim Driscoll of the Saline American Legion salutes the flag. Driscoll urged Americans to remember those who return from war with injuries and trauma.

Quoting the late Senator John McCain, Marl urged people to fight for what's right - and to fight for America.

"Fight for what's right for our country. Fight for the ideals and character of a free people. Fight for our children's future. Fight for justice and opportunity for all. Stand up to defend our country from its enemies. Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America. Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight," Marl said. "Nothing is inevitable here. We're Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history."

Sergeant at Arms Bill Schwimmer salutes Post Commander Saims after Saims placed the ceremonial wreath in honor of fallen soldiers.

Following the speeches, ceremonial wreaths were placed in from of the World War I Doughboy and in front of the grave of US Army Corporal Russell Michalke, a 19-year-old Saline man killed by small arms fire in Vietnam.

Veterans salute the Oakwood Cemetery grave of Corporal Russell Michalke, who was killed in the Vietnam War.

The Washtenaw County Honor Guard then saluted the dead with a three-shot volley.

Trumpeters from the Saline High School of the Saline High School Marching Band then played Taps.

Noah Socha of the Saline High School Marching Band performs Taps.

Following the program, dozens of people crossed the street for a free hot dog lunch at the Saline American Legion. The lunch was sponsored by Robison- Bahnmiller Funeral Home.

Veterans enjoy the luncheon at the Legion.
Dressed in patriotic red, white and blue, Saline resident Mary Hess attends the American Legion luncheon.
Betsy Marl helped serve food at the American Legion Luncheon.
A rose was placed on the Memorial Wall at the Saline American Legion.
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