Only a handful of scattered seats were vacant at the Pelican Fine Arts Auditorium, for the May 31 Memorial Day program.
Foreground, main speaker Major Eric Schwirian, who served three tours in Afghanistan.
He is pastor at Pelican’s Trinity Lutheran.
Pelican Rapids American Legion Post 17 Commander Ronald Stadum, welcoming the crowd that virtually filled the new Pelican school
Fine Arts Auditorium.
Army Chaplain and Trinity Lutheran Church pastor
Eric Schwirian
Marine Sgt. Nathan Schmidt, who completed his four year enlistment, was a special guest at the Memorial Day
program.
He and his wife Ellen were visiting relatives in the extended Oliver family in Pelican Rapids.
Presenting the traditional reading of “In Flanders Field,” Pelican student
Gretta Nordgren.
Firing a salute along the Pelican River, the Pelican Rapids American Legion Post 17 and VFW Post 5252 color guard.
Pelican Rapids area Girl Scouts participated in the Memorial Day observances, laying wreaths at the base of honorary crosses—during the Pelican River outdoor ceremony.

Memorial Day program may have been record turn-out

By Louis Hoglund

For U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain Major Eric Schwirian, significance of the day of remembrance echoes from the Civil War to the present day. 

It was in Afghanistan where one of his platoon leaders, SSG Neki B Allen, died in combat. 

And it is in Schwirian’s home state, Pennsylvania, where the battle of Gettysburg set the stage for what we now know as Memorial Day. 

A near-capacity crowd surrendered a morning “at the lake” to observe Memorial Day at the Pelican Rapids High School auditorium May 31. Delivering the main address was Rev. Schwirian, of Pelican’s Trinity Lutheran Church—to perhaps the largest audience ever at a Pelican Memorial Day program.

VFW and American Legion commanders Richard Gabe and Ronald Stadum offered remarks, along with Master of Ceremonies John Nordstrom, himself a Vietnam veteran. Patriotic music was performed by the Band of Faith—directed by Air Force veteran Mike Nettestad. As many as 500 were on hand, between the program, the parade and the riverside ceremonies at the Pelican Veterans Memorial Park.

The words of Abraham Lincoln reverberated at the auditorium, as Schwirian quoted the Civil War president’s Gettysburg Address: 

“…from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

From those words of the ages, Schwirian recalled his fallen comrade SSG Allen. He died in combat during the War in Afghanistan in 2009.

“The positive impact he had on my life during our combat tour together in Afghanistan included showing me and others how to be a great leader,” said Schwirian. “He led from the front …I will never forget my first combat mission, which included a several hour drive in the middle of the night through a city and several mountains in Afghanistan… without hesitation, SSG Allen volunteered to place his vehicle first.” 

“He may have died, but his legacy will forever positively impact his wife, children, friends, family, soldiers, community, and even for my family and I, my spouse, and my children,” said Schwirian. 

SSG was one of 13 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 87th IN, 3BCT, 10th Mountain Infantry Division that died that year in Afghanistan, in which Schwirian’s platoon was a part.

Schwirian also paid tribute to SSG Josh Hanson, a Pelican graduate killed in Iraq in 2003.  In the audience, was Josh’s mother Kathy Hanson—the general Pelican area’s last living”Gold Star Mother.” 

Schwirian also noted the Wahl Family, who lost son Tyler during basic training in 2005.

From the auditorium, a brief parade led to the Memorial Park, where wreathes were presented by local Girl Scouts. 

The combined VFW and American Legion Color Guard fired a gun salute. 

The words of Abraham Lincoln still echoed in the minds of the crowd gathered by the Pelican River—with the sun shining overhead. 

“…this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

PHOTOS BY LOUIS HOGLUND