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Soldier explains Memorial Day

Guest speaker in Waupaca

By James Card

Sgt. Major Michael John Seefeld was the keynote speaker at Waupaca’s Memorial Day ceremony held at the VFW post. James Card Photo

The heavy rain the day before cleared into blue skies on Memorial Day with enough of a breeze to keep the stars and stripes fluttering in the wind.

At VFW Post 1037, the Waupaca High School band kicked off the memorial ceremony by playing the theme song to “Great Escape,” the epic WWII film starring Steve McQueen.

After a few words of welcome by the post commander, the Senior Kickers from the Waupaca Senior Center spread out on the grassy lawn for a choreographed dance performed to Lee Greenwood’s song, “Proud to be an American.”

The post chaplain said a prayer and two Boy Scouts led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. One speaker read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and another read General Orders No. 11, written and put into effect in 1868 by John A. Logan, the Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic.

It was this order that put the concept of a Memorial Day in motion: “It is the purpose of the commander in chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades,” wrote Logan only three years after the Civil War.

The band played the “Armed Forces Salute” as members of each branch of service stood up when the tune of their respective branch was played.

The keynote speaker was Sgt. Major Michael John Seefeld. He grew up on a dairy farm on Colby and enlisted in 1999. He has been deployed five times. His last seven years was in special operations command.

“My job was to find bad guys and kill them by any means possible,” he said.

He told of a time when they were attacked in Iraq.

“The only reason we survived is because we had a female medic with a pistol. Let me tell you there is nothing more motivating than seeing a young lady jump up, grab a weapon and defend you,” said Seefeld.

He said that a total of 11 soldiers died while serving with him.

What does Memorial Day mean?

He asked what does Memorial Day mean for people in the audience. What does it mean for veterans?
“I will tell you for veterans that have served, I can tell you that it’s something very special. Every Memorial Day morning, I spend the morning the same way. I get up and I shave and while I am shaving I see the 11 faces of the soldiers that I lost,” he said.

He said earlier in his career he experience post-traumatic stress, alcoholism and contemplated suicide. Seefeld asked the audience to think about those issues that veterans face. He pointed out that 22 veterans per day commit suicide. He buried a friend two days ago and another one four weeks before that. He said that was the cost of freedom and it was something that no one should ever forget.

Seefeld recapped some earlier history of the concept of a Memorial Day that dated back further than Logan’s 1868 orders but then he pointed out that Memorial Day was not formally made a holiday until 1971.

“There’s a misnomer that Memorial Day is a free weekend and you thank somebody that is currently serving. That’s not what this day is about. That’s Armistice or Veterans Day in November. That’s when you honor the folks that are upright and walking around. This weekend is specifically about those that paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.

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