Memorial Day weekend is often celebrated as the start to summer, but the reason for the long weekend is for people to honor those who died serving the United States.
Events to commemorate Memorial Day will be held across the state on Monday, May 27, including at the Eden Prairie Veterans Memorial in Purgatory Creek Park, 13001 Technology Drive.
This year’s event will start at 11 a.m. and honor three local veterans, Jim McDougall, Art Peterson and Lou Ellingston.
McDougall, 95, of Minnetonka, will be the guest speaker. He was a combat aircrewman for the 7th Fleet’s Black Cat Squadron VPB-52 in the South Pacific during World War II. He was formally discharged on Jan. 20, 1946, and then went to college in South Dakota before later moving to Minnetonka to work at Cargill.
He recently published his stories from the war in a book, “Conflict to Combat in the South Pacific,” which is available on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2PuOIBv.
Peterson, who is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5919 in Excelsior, lived in Eden Prairie for about 38 years before moving to Chaska in 2012. He served three years in the U.S. Army, starting in 1966, including as a dog handler in the Vietnam War, serving in Vietnam from October 1967-October 1968. He spent the remainder of his service guarding a Nike missile site in Chicago.
During his service, he worked with four German shepherds: Little John, who was a scout dog; Gunner, who protected a Nike missile site in Rhode Island; King, who protected an ammo dump in Vietnam; and Fritz, who protected the perimeter of a helicopter unit in Vietnam.
Ellingson, of Eden Prairie, did a one-year tour of duty as a swift boat captain for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, according to a 2015 video of him speaking to the Eden Prairie Lions. As the captain, he was responsible for communications, keeping track of where they were and would give the order to shoot or not to shoot.
He started out off the coast of Vietnam, where their mission was to keep the enemy from moving supplies. Then he was stationed along the Vietnam-Cambodian border, where their mission was to patrol the border and keep the enemy from coming into Vietnam.
Origin of Memorial Day
Memorial Day wasn’t a national holiday until 1971, when an act of Congress made it the official day to honor fallen service members, and placed the holiday on the last Monday in May.
The origin of the holiday dates back to right after the Civil War. On May 5, 1868 — three years after the Civil War ended — the head of the Grand Army of the Republic established Decoration Day (what is now called Memorial Day), the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website says. It was a time for people in the United States to decorate the graves of those who died in the Civil War with flowers.
It wasn’t until after World War 1 that Memorial Day was expanded to honor all service members who fought for their country in American wars, not just the Civil War, the website notes.