By John Croman

Minnesota's official Memorial Day observance was once again a real gathering Monday for the first time since before the COVID pandemic began.

After two years of virtual celebrations people looking to honor those who gave their lives for their country converged upon Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where the event was traditionally held for decades.

The service came complete with color guards, a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, speeches by politicians and audience made up of veterans, family members and survivors — all of the elements we've come to expect on a day set aside to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Rain showers and lightning initially put a damper on the event, but eventually people were able to put away their umbrellas.

"The people who lie here literally stood in the face of tyranny and potentially the loss of our entire freedoms," Gov. Tim Walz, a National Guard veteran, told the crowd. "And they stood it down, sometimes against odds that could not have been calculated."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar said this is the first Memorial Day Service she's attended since her father, Korean War veteran Jim Klobuchar, was buried at Fort Snelling.

She reminded the audience that the people of Ukraine are currently fighting for the same ideas held by those buried at the cemetery.

"We as Americans stand with democracy and we stand with Ukraine!" Sen. Klobuchar declared, drawing applause from the audience.

The theme this year was "POW-MIA" -- prisoners of war and missing in action. An special Dept. of Defense agency estimates there are more than 80,000 American service members still missing and unaccounted for in all of the overseas conflicts the US has been engaged in during the past century.

The featured speaker Monday was Mark Stephensen of the National League of POW-MIA Families.  

"Words are more feeble on this Memorial Day at the sight of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and in turn loved their countrymen enough to die for them," Stephensen asserted.

"Yet we must try to honor them, not for their sakes but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we can strive to keep faith with them."

He said his own father, US Air Force Col. Mark Lane Stephensen, was missing for decades after crashing his F4 Phantom while on a reconnaissance mission in North Vietnam in 1967. It wasn't until 1988 that the Vietnamese identified Stephensen's remains.