Under dark skies befitting a somber occasion, more than 100 people filed into a Fort Dodge school auditorium Monday to remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who died fighting so that today's Americans can live in freedom.
The fallen troops were ''the best of the best that this country has to offer'' the Rev. Jon Rollefson, the pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Callender, said during an invocation at the beginning of the Memorial Day ceremony held at St. Edmond High School, 501 N. 22nd St.
One veteran who was specifically honored during the ceremony did not die in combat. Former Fort Dodge City Councilman Curt Olson, who had joined the Marine Corps when he was 17, was posthumously named the Veteran of the Year by the Fort Dodge Veterans Council. Olson died Oct. 23, 2012, at age 56. The award plaque was presented to his fiancee, Julie Packard-Knutson.
''If Curt were here, he would have told you that serving his country in the United States Marine Corps was the proudest achievement of his life,'' Packard-Knutson said. ''He would have told you that some of the happiest days of his life were spent chaperoning World War II veterans on their Honor Flights.''
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, invoked the memory of every service member who died in action, starting with the Revolutionary War and leading up to today's war against terrorism.
''Today we come together to honor those who have given their lives in the defense and service of our country,'' he said.
King said the best way to honor those troops is to make good use of the rights that they died fighting to protect.
''It's our job to exercise those rights here in this country,'' he said.
The threat of rain forced the Memorial Day ceremony indoors for the first time in more than a decade. A brief service at Veterans Memorial Park near Badger Lake north of the city was canceled. That service traditionally features a wreath being cast into the water in honor of those who died at sea.
About 150 people attended the ceremony at the school.
It featured patriotic music by the Karl King Municipal Band and the Harmony Brigade.
Dan Payne, a former Marine who is the senior adviser to the Fort Dodge Veterans Council, presented Olson's award to Packard-Knutson.
''Our veteran of the year is guarding the gates of heaven,'' he said.
Payne described Olson as ''the ultimate volunteer.''
Olson was elected to the City Council in 2003 and represented Ward 1 for four terms. He volunteered with the Humane Society of North Central Iowa, the Fort Dodge Dragoons and Shellabration Inc. He served as a guardian on five Brushy Creek Area Honor Flight trips to Washington, D.C., in 2010 and 2011.
Payne also presented a Special Service Award to Neal Greve for his years of work to set up flags at North Lawn Cemetery for Memorial Day services. Greve, a retired Fort Dodge firefighter, was a Navy hospital corpsman assigned to a Marine unit.
The names of all Webster County veterans who died in the last year were read during the ceremony.
The event concluded with a rifle salute by the color guard of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1856 in Fort Dodge and the playing of "Taps".