Wayne Montgomery wanted hundreds of people attending Resthaven Cemetery’s annual Memorial Day service on Monday to know about his Marine Corps buddy, Larry Wayne Rhodes.
Rhodes, from Wichita, was killed on April 29, 1969, in Vietnam after an M79 shell exploded near him.
“He was reliable,” Montgomery said of Rhodes. “He was there when you needed him. … His M-16 (rifle) was always clean and he never fell asleep on watch. And coming from another infantryman, that’s high praise.”
Montgomery, who lives in California, said he came to Wichita to honor and remember Rhodes, and “to put a face on one of those who we honor here today.”
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The more than hour-long service, blunted by gusty winds and intermittent sunshine, included speeches by Col. Albert Miller of McConnell Air Force Base, Mayor Jeff Longwell and U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita. It also included performances by the Air Capital Chorus and Scottish Highland Bagpipes, and two flyovers by four airplanes from the Commemorative Air Force.
“Today we honor those who did more than just serve, but who gave all in their service” said Miller, commander of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell. “This is their day. And the cemeteries of our nation and throughout the world serve as their final resting place. It is them that we are here to thank.”
Pompeo and Longwell each remembered Capt. Chris Norgren, a Marine helicopter pilot and Bishop Carroll High School graduate who was killed when his helicopter crashed May 12 while delivering aid in Nepal following an April 25 earthquake.
“He was flying a humanitarian mission on behalf of the United States of America, a place where America’s exceptionalism, not in war but in peace, was on display,” Pompeo said. “And Capt. Norgren, in his person, served our nation, Kansas and our community, and we love him for his commitment to our country.”
Norgren was among six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers killed in the crash.
“His life and death reminds us that America has special duties in the world,” Longwell said. “We are called to do things that other nations can’t or won’t. We are called to be rescuers, peacekeepers, warriors. Chris and many other men and women in our military embrace those roles and are deserving of our appreciation. Memorial Day reminds us that American freedoms, ideals and values are secured with a cost.”
Montgomery, the Marine from California, said he was reminded of that cost before giving his speech. Rhodes, who is buried at Resthaven and was only 20 when he was killed, didn’t get to experience the kind of life that Montgomery did after Vietnam.
“Larry … never had an opportunity to get married, have children, have grand children,” Montgomery said, his voice cracking. “I’m so grateful I had that.”