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Great Falls Honors Those Who Serve

Freedom Memorial hosts annual Memorial Day Ceremony.

Langley senior Matthew Goudreau knows all about being in a military family. His mother was in the Navy and his brother is currently serving in the Marines on the USS Enterprise. So when the Thomas a Beckett Youth Choir and Ensemble, of which Goudreau is a member, was asked to perform at the Great Falls Freedom Memorial for Memorial Day, he was more than willing.

"I enjoy things like this, and I always like being able to help remember those who have served and still are serving our country," said Goudreau, who also performed at the memorial last Veterans Day as part of the Langley Madrigals. "This time it was a bit more casual than with the Madrigals, and we also had the ensemble behind us, which was nice."

Goudreau and the rest of the ensemble were part of dozens who gathered at the Freedom Memorial for the annual Memorial Day Ceremony Monday.

Ed Heberg, president of the Friends of the Great Falls Memorial, remembers growing up in Chicago where Memorial Day meant a double header at Wrigley Park for him and his brother.

"We didn’t think of much else on Memorial Day then, but as the years went by, we both served in the Army and we recognized that this was an opportunity to celebrate what we have been given in this country," Heberg said. "My sister-in-law, my brother’s wife, her father landed at Omaha Beach and is buried at Normandy, she never got to meet him. But every year around this time, she sends out an e-mail that reminds us why we use this day to celebrate and commemorate."

THE KEYNOTE SPEAKER for the event was Marine Col. William K. Rockey, who spent more than 30 years in the Marine Corps, serving in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

"When I come to an event like this, at first you tend to think of the top heroes, people like Audie Murphy and Alvin York," he said, speaking of two highly decorated soldiers of World War II and World War I, respectively. "But you don’t have to have a fancy name to be a hero."

He spoke of his father-in-law, who immigrated to the United States from Greece and survived a sunken submarine and being gassed during wars overseas.

"He was extremely patriotic, for the rest of his life, whenever the colors went by, he would stop and place his hand over his heart," Rockey said. "He is mine and my wife’s hero."

Calvin Follin read the names of 24 Great Falls citizens who have passed away while serving their country, as well as the ones who were killed when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon on 9/11. After each name was read, Sara Hilgartner rang a bell to commemorate each life lost.

The ceremony concluded with Boy Scouts from Troop 55 raising the flags from their half-mast position to the top of the pole, followed by a performance of the national anthem.

Scout Clayton Barber, 17, said it was a nice way for the troop to spend Memorial Day.

"It was nice to do something a little more personal, a little closer to home, we usually drive into Washington, D.C.," he said. "Although I’ve never served, I’d like to think that seeing those flags raised meant something to the people in the audience that had served."

Charles Sampson, 14, a scout from Troop 55, said it was "pretty amazing to see everyone gather around to celebrate what people have done to serve this country."

THE GREAT FALLS FREEDOM MEMORIAL hosts ceremonies on Memorial Day, 9/11 and Veterans Day and it will also serve as the starting point for the annual Fourth of July Race, which starts this year at 7:30 a.m.