Karon Criswell was about 3 when her father, Everett Cox, returned from serving in World War II, meeting his daughter for the first time.
It took a while for the little girl to get used to her father, but she did.
“I was a daddy’s girl all the way,” Criswell said of her relationship with her father, who served in the Navy. “He was something else, let me tell you. He was wonderful.”
On Memorial Day, Criswell visited her father’s grave, decorated with red, white and blue flowers. A small flag fluttered over the grave, one of the more than 6,000 flags that had been placed on veterans’ graves at Resthaven Cemetery.
Planes flew over the cemetery and veterans placed special memorials on the graves of others at the 59th annual Memorial Day service at Resthaven. Many people placed flowers on graves of veterans before or after the service.
Col. Bruce Heseltine Jr. of McConnell Air Force Base told the hundreds of people gathered at the cemetery about how he once was eating in a restaurant in Derby when a little girl – probably younger than 6 – tugged on his uniform.
“She said, ‘Sir, I just want to say, I just want to say thank you for protecting my life,’ ” Heseltine recalled.
While he had often been thanked for his service, Heseltine said he was surprised to be thanked for protecting a young child’s life.
“What that tells me about Kansans, ladies and gentlemen, is that young lady learned that from her parents who learned that from her grandparents who learned that from their great-grandparents,” Heseltine said. “That’s Midwest values. That’s what you get here in Kansas. You Kansans love your veterans.”
Heseltine also recalled veterans from the area who have died, including the three brothers for whom McConnell Air Force Base is named.
“Courage seamlessly runs through today’s fighting men and women, and today we gather among the stones bearing names of Americans just like yours and mine, who ran toward the sound of guns and fought in places like North Africa and Desert Storm and Korea and Vietnam and World War II and beyond,” he said.
Before the program, Judy Gariepy passed out poppies for people to pin on their shirts or attach to their hats. Poppies commemorate military personnel who have died in war, a tradition inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields.” The poem tells of poppies growing over the graves of fallen soldiers on a World War I battlefield.
“We give out poppies to remind us that every one of us has a veteran in our lives,” said Gariepy, who is married to a Vietnam veteran. “In this day and age, people just have no idea where we’ve been. They don’t understand the tremendous freedoms that we have because of all those people that sacrificed their lives.”