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Nov 11th, 2010

Veteran holds American flag (© Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/Landov)

Beginnings of Veterans Day

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice was signed in “the war to end all wars.”

Rifle Squad Honors Vets with 57,000 Goodbyes

Members of the Fort Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad perform at a veteran’s funeral at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Bloomington, Minn. (Photo credit: Dawn Villella / AP)

By Sharon Cohen

November 11, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS — The bus stops on the cemetery path and the silver-haired men file out, sober-faced and silent amid a sea of white marble tombstones. Some carry rifles, some flags, a few hold bugles. They’ve all come to say goodbye — to a stranger.

This is their eighth funeral of the day. They have five more to go.

The men are members of a special fraternity of veterans. Two generations. Three wars. Survivors of places such as Khe Sanh, Chu Lai, Tokyo Bay, the Chosin Reservoir. Recipients of Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars. Now all together, offering a final salute to those who, like them, served long ago.

Their gait may be slower than it once was, their shoulders a bit more stooped, their eyesight not quite as sharp, but every weekday, 12 months a year, in knee-deep snow and blistering heat, the men of the Fort Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad are out in force and in formation, paying tribute to veterans being laid to rest.

The volunteer squad travels in its own bus across the vast Fort Snelling National Cemetery, conducting full military honors: The call to arms. The white-gloved salute. Three rounds of rifle shots. The mournful wail of two bugles. The folding of the flag. A few words of thanks to the family. Then one final salute.

It’s a sad ceremony, but a celebration, too.

“When you fire those three volleys and play Taps, that’s a signal to somebody upstairs that someone special — a veteran — is on the way there,” says Ted Nemzek, an 82-year-old squad member and Korean War vet whose Bronze Star hangs jauntily from his cap. “It’s a wonderful way to say goodbye. It’s meaningful.”

He should know. He and the squad have said goodbye more than 57,000 times. …

Read the full story here

Fort Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad photo gallery


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — November 11, 2009

Veterans Day Parade

One year ago today, I featured a video chronicle of the 2009 St. Cloud-area Veterans Day Parade.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

A large sign showing the number of U.S. troops killed in the war in Iraq is shown on Veterans Day in a field of 4,824 wooden crosses in Lafayette, California, November 11, 2008. (Photo credit: Robert Galbraith / Reuters)

Two years ago today, on Nov. 11, 2008, I featured NBC Today’s “American Story with Bob Dotson” from Arlington National Cemetery, where mothers remembered their veteran sons who lost their lives in combat.

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