Dozens of spectators were on hand on Monday, Memorial Day, 2013 at the Missoula County Courthouse to take part in ceremonies to honor members of the armed forces, police and firefighters who have given their lives while in service to their communities and country.

photo by Peter Christian

Susan Campbell Reneau, President of the United Veterans Council, said she produces and presents ceremonies on Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Flag Day to honor her military heritage.

"I do this in honor of my father, a Marine, who passed away last year," Reneau said. "I do this for any of our veterans who died, as well as for our police and firefighters who gave their lives."

The purpose of the ceremony at the courthouse was part of a tradition that stretches deep into Missoula's history.

"This was the historic first Memorial Day service that was organized by members of the American Legion Auxiliary 27, of which I am a member," Reneau said. "And, we've been doing services here since 1928."

Susan Campbell Reneau

photo by Peter Christian

The guest speaker in the courthouse gazebo was Lt. Col. Joseph Yakawich, Chairman of Military Science and the ROTC at the University of Montana. During his speech, Yakawich recited the poem "In Flanders Fields," and carried the theme of remembering the fallen into the wars of the 21st century.

"116,000 Americans died in that conflict, laying down their lives thousands of miles from home in the hellish trenches of World War I, all for the cause of freedom," Yakawich said. "Just as their forefathers had done in their fight for freedom in the Revolutionary War, today, our armed forces continue to fight to protect our shores, as well as free a foreign people from the tyranny of a hideous, hateful and intolerant form of radical Islamic extremism."

Yakawich spoke about the establishment by Congress of a National Day of Prayer.

"Did you know that public law 100-307 established that there be a National Day of Prayer every first Thursday in May?" Yakawich asked. "If you listen to the media these days, you might think there was no use for God in our society, our government and our schools, but that goes against everything our founding fathers believed. In fact, George Washington established the first National Day of Prayer in 1789. He states, 'It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for his benefits and favor.' I, like our founding fathers, believe God has enabled this nation to flourish, and I also believe we must turn back to Him. Finally, I ask Almighty God to give us the courage to grasp that torch from the hands of those who went before us, so that their sacrifices may not have been in vain."

Lt. Col. Joseph Yakawich

Services continued at many of the veterans cemeteries around Missoula, concluding with Senator Jon Tester helping to lay wreaths at the 18 different memorials at Rose Park.