Duluth observes Memorial Day
As a child, retired Brig. Gen. Tim Cossalter was a crossing guard for Stowe Elementary School, and he regretfully recalls once climbing on the veterans monument he spoke mere feet from on Monday morning.
He didn’t know then — and didn’t learn until years later — that his father’s name was listed on the monument.
“He never mentioned being in the service,” Cossalter said, and Memorial Day growing up meant parades, hot dogs and swimming. “It wasn’t until recently I realized and fully understood the significance.”
Cossalter, retired from the Air National Guard’s 148th Fighter Wing, spoke to an audience of nearly 200 near the Veterans Memorial in the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood. The memorial, which was built in 1952, was expanded two years ago with another monument and plaques, and will be completed this June with the addition of two granite signs. Included on the monuments are the names of residents from surrounding neighborhoods who served in World War II through present-day conflicts, both the living and the dead.
“What makes our site different is not only do we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, we celebrate all of the veterans from these communities who have served,” said Mark Boben, a resident of the neighborhood who worked on the $100,000 project.
In preparation for the ceremony, he said, a nearly 12-hour vigil was kept of the memorial beginning Sunday night. Monday’s observance also included a flag ceremony, a rifle salute and a playing of taps.
Cossalter has given many Memorial Day speeches in hopes they would resonate, he told the crowd, never realizing if they didn’t resonate with him they wouldn’t resonate with others. Events following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed his perspective. He and his 148th Fighter Wing staff in March 2002 watched video of a mountaintop battle involving helicopters in southeastern Afghanistan hours. U.S. Navy Seals and Army Special Forces were attacked by enemies as they tried to secure the mountaintop, and it resulted in the loss of seven U.S. servicemen’s lives, he said.
“Our initial excitement at the possibility of viewing some aspect of the Afghanistan war had dissolved in the reality of the war,” he said.
To that end, he said, “Memorial Day is not a day to be wrapped up in bunting and commemorated as if it were the Fourth of July … Memorial Day is a day we dedicate to the dead. To remember those who fell in defense of our country.”
Mayor Don Ness also proclaimed the day “Steve Balach Day” in honor of the 90-year-old’s service to the U.S. as a long-time member of the Naval Reserve.
Balach noted he was honored but surprised and said, “It’s a hot day; enjoy.”
One of his children, Joanie Balach of Minneapolis, said there was “no greater patriot” than her father.
“We were raised never to forget by both of our parents, and we won’t, and my granddaughter won’t,” she said.
After the ceremony, Duluthian Jack Rendulich photographed the names of his father, John “Gandy” Rendulich, and three of his uncles listed on one of the monuments. His father, who died in 1993, had been stationed in the Philippines with the Army, he said, during World War II.
Some of his fondest childhood memories include tales his dad told at bedtime of his wartime experiences. One involved a “pet” monkey that his father kept, which traveled the camp stealing treats from other soldiers.
“I always thought it was just a story,” Rendulich said, until he received a letter a decade ago from one of his father’s friends that included a picture of his dad with the monkey on his shoulder.
“There’s a real feeling of pride to see my dad’s name and my uncles, and everybody’s names up there,” he said. “To really think about the sacrifices they made for future generations.”