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Vogt's Notes: Honor Memorial Day for what it is

Memorial Day for me traditionally was a three-day weekend spent at a cabin or camping, having fun in the sun or making the most of the rain.

For most of the past eight years, Memorial Day has meant attending a service in an area community for the newspaper (even if it’s meant going to the service directly from a campsite!). Each year I learn something new, and even if I didn’t have to work on that day, I don’t think I could stop attending Memorial Day services.

This year, I learned Memorial Day is a day to honor veterans who have died. That sets it apart from Veterans Day, a day in November when we honor all veterans. That makes sense; I just don’t think I’d thought about it in depth before.

No matter who the speaker — a local politician, a national politician or a veteran — they always have powerful stories to share. I tend to be most moved by personal stories.

Spc. Kristopher Francisco, an Apple Valley High School graduate, shared his story at the Pequot Lakes-Jenkins Memorial Day service.

“We grew up with respect and discipline and enlisting felt like something we should do,” Francisco said, noting he and his brother enlisted in the military.

A young man, he deployed with the Minnesota National Guard to Afghanistan in May 2010. In June 2010, as a gunner for a truck convoy returning from a supply mission, he was severely injured when 500 pounds of improvised explosive device (IED) exploded under his truck, throwing his vehicle down a mountainside and pinning him in it. His leg was severely injured and he lost a lot of blood.

“The last thing I remember before waking up in Germany was a doctor saying, ‘Do you want to keep your leg or lose it?’” he said.

He kept his leg after having numerous surgeries. His recovery time until he returned home and learned to walk again was five months. Francisco is a Purple Heart recipient.

His story of receiving and recovering from the injury is fascinating, but it was what he shared about returning home that was revealing as well.

“I’ve seen what happens when people have poor care and no support system,” Francisco said, noting even though he is lucky to have a good support system, he still fell into a deep depression and received questionable care at times. Others get hooked on pain-killing drugs and lose their dignity and pride, he said.

“People think, ‘You poor soldier, you’re just trying to get out and faking an injury,’” he said.

Organizations like Fishing for Freedom, Wounded Warrior Project, Military Warriors Support Foundation and Military Appreciation Fund helped Francisco get through.

“Now I’m happier than ever,” he said, adding he’s less depressed and feels almost normal again. “Support systems are there and it’s a way to turn back from the dark side.”

After encouragement from his brother and girlfriend, Francisco plans to become a personal trainer, training with wounded veterans. He wants to make sure veterans don’t die because they didn’t get the support they needed.

State Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, shared personal stories at the Nisswa Memorial Day service, noting her parents both served in World War II and her brother served three tours in Vietnam. Her older brother’s friend died in Vietnam at age 22.

“I was 17. That made a big impact. I never knew anyone who died before,” she said.

“When we honor our fallen, think of someone you know and share a story so they are not forgotten,” Ruud said. “Today is a day to remember all.”

Next Memorial Day, consider giving up an hour of your day to attend a Memorial Day service. You’ll be glad you did.