The Vietnam veteran, commander of the Reno chapter of the American Legion, Post 1, and a Sparks resident, was among local military dignitaries, elected officials and nearly 1,000 attendees at the Memorial Day ceremony honoring those who have died and those who are fighting in America’s wars.
“This is what it’s really all about,” Gundersen said of the day’s commemoration.
For many Americans, the Memorial Day weekend signifies the start of summer. Beaches, baseball and barbecue highlight the flag-waving festivities.
But for vets like Gundersen and the families of fallen heroes, the last days of May are a time of tribute and reflection.
“This is a special day that we should set aside to honor people that should be honored,” said Sparks Mayor Geno Martini, who has attended the commemoration in Fernley for the last several years and was an invited guest of note on Monday.
The veterans cemetery opened in 1990 and serves as the final resting place for more than 10,000 veterans and their family members.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, in a keynote address, recognized Nevadans that have made the “ultimate sacrifice,” giving their lives for their country.
One of those veterans mentioned was James Jeffrey Cathey, a 24-year-old Marine Corps officer from Reno who was killed in Iraq in 2005.
Schery Green, Cathey’s cousin, was on hand Monday to honor him.
She could be seen standing over the grave of her father, Leon Busch, a Vietnam veteran who died in 2006, with tears streaming down her face.
“My freedom’s important to me,” Green said, nearly choking with emotion.
Green’s husband, Jarrid, and two young daughters were there, too. She said it was important for her kids to learn about the sacrifice her cousin and father had made for the benefit of all Americans.
Veterans from every major U.S. military conflict from World War II to the current battles in Iraq and Afghanistan were asked to stand and be counted during Monday’s ceremony.
With each passing year, the numbers of vets swell and then subside as new recruits enlist and those who have served in past wars age from this life.
The last known American World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died at the glorious age of 110 in February.
Soon, a day will come when the World War II generation no longer is around to regale their grandchildren with stories from that epic, global conflict.
At the end of Monday’s ceremony, bagpipes sounded the harmony of “Amazing Grace” while a rifle squad fired shots in salute to veterans of all America’s wars, which now date back 236 years.
Veterans, their family members and those who came to simply show support then began tracing the cemetery grounds in a solemn walk, staring down at the names on the grave markers as they passed.
American flags planted at each grave fluttered under the breezy, blue sky of northern Nevada, a reminder that the ultimate sacrifice lasts for an eternity in the memories of the bereaved.
“We need to be grateful,” Green said. “Not just today, but everyday.”