Memorial Day at the Minnesota Veterans Cemetery Little Falls


It was a beautiful hot day, hotter than normal for Central Minnesota. My intention was to leave by 9:00am to be there by 10. Plans needed to change, due to the weather and my husband’s client schedules, so instead of him coming with me for the day, which would have been a long and boring day for him, he headed off to a job two hours away. That meant it was just going to be me. I feel it worked out best that way.
At about 10:30 I loaded up the thirty-five pamphlets I had made and the poster and my TAPS box of items and headed North on Hwy 10 to the cemetery. When I arrived at the cemetery the people were just getting into position to assist with parking and I was directed by two people in bright yellow vests to go to the right. The first thing you notice when you arrive is all of the flags waving in the breeze. One at each tombstone and at each mausoleum location. I circled over to see dad’s spot and it was kind of busy. In particular when I walked up to take a photo and just stand by him, there was a woman and a man and the woman was nervously rambling loudly. It was hard to think of anything other than the conversations she was having as she walked around and read off some of the names on the headstones and made comments about the names. I decided I would let go of quality time at that moment and work instead on getting a parking spot and going in the see the framed painting for the first time.
I have found that when the cemetery is having a big event, they use some of the unused space for parking. That was true today and I bounced across a field to my parking spot. I was the second person there parked for the event. This is a very uncommon thing for me to be so early. From time to time I work hard to make that happen. Once parked I scooped up my stuff from the back seat; a bottle of water, bag of stuff, a red camp chair and a red umbrella. The umbrella was for the sun, since the ceremony would be outside at noon, I needed to be prepared. As I walked closer to the committal hall I noticed people starting to set chairs in the shade and I asked a couple if I could park my red chair behind them and used the flag to stake it into place. Then I walked into the committal hall.
The hall was awash with sun coming in the newly updated windows and all of the paintings looked amazing. “The Best of Him” was off to the left side, next to a table, set in a large easel. A smile came to my face and that warm feeling I used to get being around my dad came over me. It was the wonderful feeling of knowing you are safe and someone who loves you is nearby. I walked over to the painting and took in the moment, took a couple of photos and started to take lay out the TAPS items on the table. I set the drawing details next to the painting on the table and the brochures in front of that. It made a nice presentation. Charles Kapsner was not there yet and there were just a few people wandering into the building. We were still over an hour away from the memorial service. It was at that point that I was able to look at my phone to see I had missed a few texts. A dear friend and on of my in-laws had stopped in earlier to see the painting. I felt so honored that they had taken the time to do that. I kind of sat myself off to the side in the room, as to not make people feel like they had to talk with me. If people paused at the painting for a while, then I would walk up and start a conversation. It was a nice way to work up to the large number of people yet to arrive. The conversations were nice. People related to something in the painting and some of the vets would ask questions about different things and relate to parts of the painting. It was an honor to allow other people to get to know my dad a little more and to talk about the people that they were there to honor. For those that have lost someone who served Memorial Day can be a deeply sad day. I could see and feel that level of grief as people walked through and they were at a place to talk about TAPS, losing loved ones through suicide and PTSD. Charles arrived at noon, and it was perfect timing. More and more people were arriving, and he engaged them in conversations about his paintings, their loved ones, or their own experiences in the service. He would point to “the Best of Him” and people would wander over and chat with me. I thought we made a good team. Charles’s wife stopped in for the ceremony and to offer support for both of us. It was calming to see her and chat. She is a kind woman and she and I having grown up on the Iron Range have become friends over the years. We get each other in a way not everyone does. She and Charles know many of the key people involved in the military art projects and other military things. Charles often took time to introduce me to them, which was very kind of him. A few of our local representatives stopped into the hall to enjoy some AC and prepare for the event. One of them I knew from trivia night and we learned that he too has commissioned memorial paintings for people in his life. He also noted that it might be nice if I wanted to show my painting at the local community center he could help to make that happen. What a great opportunity.
By the time the Memorial Day ceremony started, the sun was high and hot, but a lovely strong breeze was saving the day. I took my seat in the shade and enjoyed the sounds of a band and the choir playing patriotic songs. Prayers were said, stories told, wreaths laid out, flags marched in and out, and a keynote speaker shared a story about a young Civil War veteran from Minnesota. Taps was played and my tears came, with ease and abundance as I stood in the same cemetery, I had heard taps played for my dad. It was a moment shared by many I could see.
Once the ceremony was over, I folded up my chair and headed into the committal hall to meet a lot more people. The table of brochures and TAPS pamphlets was almost empty. I could have had at least seventy-five brochures, I was surprised. I will know for next time. In the end, Charles left before I did and I had a chance right at the end to talk with the director of the cemetery. He is a very kind man with a gift for positivity and listening. He had not heard about TAPS until this project, and I was happy to tell him a lot more about the program and the services that he might find helpful to the many families he comes in contact with. He asked if I wanted to leave any of the TAPS stuff with him and I left everything that I had remaining. I also promised to help keep him supplied in the future. I walked away from that conversation feeling like I had made a strong connection for the local community to a larger resource and that felt good.
The sun was still warm by 3:20pm when I walked to my car umbrella, chair, and bag in hand. Before I drove away from the cemetery, I stopped one more time to share a quiet moment at my dad’s grave site and enjoy the view of the gentle breeze pushing the flags to and frow.
It had been the perfect Memorial Day. I had a chance to honor my father, move this project from creation to completion and start the next chapter of my grief journey. The next chapter is sharing this story with others, hearing their stories, removing the stigma behind PTSD and death by suicide, and connecting people to resources they may not know about.
It as a day to remember.