Wichita service honors veterans' sacrifice

A smaller-than-anticipated crowd of about 1,500 at Monday's Memorial Day services at Resthaven Cemetery couldn't dim the smile on Mike Harter's face.

"To know that what I did and what my comrades did is still appreciated means a lot to me," the Vietnam veteran said.

"By some, anyway."

Featured speakers included Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt and Col. James Crowhurst, commander of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base.

Each paid homage to the veterans in attendance and those who gave their lives defending America.

"You are all American heroes," Tiahrt said, "those of you who served and your families. We are grateful for the service and sacrifice you made on behalf of our country."

Crowhurst's voice cracked as he recounted the importance of honoring fallen comrades.

He explained how fallen soldiers are transported home, and how the flight line at bases gather at the tail of the airplane carrying the coffins to show their respect.

"The dignity and respect for our fallen comrades gives military members confidence that our service is valued and we will not be forgotten," Crowhurst said.

"Furthermore, it is comforting to know how our families will be cared for and supported. This empowers servicemen and women to carry out their jobs through adversity.

"And it also highlights what makes America great. Our nation responds well to adversity."

Brewer spoke about the unique mixture of emotions the holiday evokes.

"Unlike most holidays, this day brings us moments of sorrow and moments of joy," he said.

"The sorrow comes from remembering those who are no longer with us, especially those who lost their lives in the protection of our country or the line of duty.

"The joy comes from the opportunity to recognize them for the lives they lived and the contribution they made and the sacrifices we honor, particularly on this day."

That's what brought veterans like Harter, Gary Cross and cemetery superintendent LeRoy Stine to Monday morning's service.

"The crowds have slipped, but the word about the job they do here at Resthaven with this service will spread," Harter said. "Once people come out here and see the flag display and hear the program, they'll come back and they'll bring friends and family with them."

Cross and Stine speculated that the holiday has given way to recreation.

"It's more of a holiday for people doing fishing stuff than what it was designed for," said Cross, an Air Force veteran and a member of the Mid-Kansas Military Vehicle Preservation Association displaying his 1952 Jeep at the service.

"This is not like World War II or World War I. This is hit-and-run war."

"I agree that it's a shrinking turnout as the day has evolved from World War I, World War II and Vietnam," said Stine, who served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1969.

"Usually what you see these days is middle-aged people and older. Very few young people come out to pay their respects, but you have a lot of young people involved in Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts and other organizations come out and help support what we're doing.

"Whether they have the knowledge of the history and why we're here, I don't know."

Harter said that some of that awareness has returned with conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We really skipped a whole generation of people experiencing conflict, but now, unfortunately, people have more to think about because we're involved overseas," he said.