Sunday’s Spirit of ’45 memorial ceremony drew a crowd of about 300 to the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in Van Meter to honor U.S. veterans of World War II and commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.
Mahlon Conaway of Perry, 92, a World War II veteran of the U.S. Army who saw action in Germany and France, was among the World War II veterans attending the ceremony.
The laying of a wreath and playing of Taps formed the stark center of the event, but honor was shown to all of Iowa’s surviving veterans of World War II as the event’s most worthy guests.
The invocation was delivered by Harlan Lekowsky, 90, a 1943 graduate of North High School in Des Moines who served in the Pacific Theater as a chaplain with the 27th Army Combat Engineers.
“We are thankful to the Almighty for bringing us all here today under this beautiful sky,” Lekowsy said.
An address was given by Capt. Jerry Yellin, 91, of Fairfield, Iowa, a World War II fighter pilot who was flying a combat mission in his P-51 Mustang on the last day of the war.
Yellin, national spokesman for the Spirit of ’45 Foundation, asked all attendees under the age of 20 to come to the podium. When they assembled, he asked the young people to turn and face the audience, and he explained to everyone the importance of our nation’s future and the responsibility we bear toward the next generation.
“I suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome for 30 after the war,” Yellin said in remarks prior to the ceremony. “I was a lost soul, just wandering, but in 1975 I discover transcendental meditation, and it saved my life.”
Yellin said he remembers every day the 16 of his fellow Army Air Corps crewmen who did not return form the war.
Along with the wreath laying and veterans’ speeches, many other activities filled the 90-minute event. Men and women in World-War II-era uniforms reenacted famous battles scenes, and period vehicles were on display, including a flyover by a fully restored Stinson airplane.
The MacKenzie Highlander Pipes and Drums and the Lutheran Church of Hope Gospel Quintet performed patriotic songs, and speeches honoring U.S. World War II veterans were delivered by U.S. Representative David Young, Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad and Van Meter Mayor Allan Adams.
Col. Robert King (Ret), executive director of the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, said he “encouraged all World War II veterans and their families to attend the ceremony so they can be recognized, honored and thanked for their service during the war.”
King said the 70th anniversary tribute began in the Western Pacific at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines, continued throughout the day at places such as Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and other national and state veterans cemeteries around the world, and ended at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific — known as the Punchbowl –on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
The Iowa ceremony was organized by the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, McLaren’s Resthaven Chapel and Mortuary in West Des Moines and HCI Hospice Care Services of Iowa.
Cheryl TanCreti, community outreach director at McLaren’s Resthaven Chapel and Mortuary, said she was happy with the event and that “most of the arrangements were made within the past few weeks.”
“This great event is just one example of how we are working together to honor veterans,” said Norene Mostkoff, president and CEO of HCI-Hospice Care Services of Iowa and of Visiting Nurses Services of Iowa.
A hospitality tent sponsored by McLaren’s and HCI was made available, giving visitors an opportunity to write on a remembrance board. The Van Meter American Legion Post 403 hosted a reception at their post headquarters following the ceremonies at the cemetery.
The annual Iowa State Fair Veterans Day parade at 11 a.m. Monday will conclude the Spirit of ‘45 events, but the gratitude Americans feel toward the “greatest generation” will never end.