In the true spirit of Memorial Day, Leer Lutheran Church will pause this weekend to remember its local veterans and to commemorate the four men from the community of Leer who long ago paid the ultimate price by giving their lives for their country.
The celebration to honor veterans is planned for Sunday at the small but quaint community church, located at 10430 S. Leer Road. A VFW Military Honor Guard and cemetery walk will take place at 2 p.m., followed by an American-style buffet luncheon at 3:30 p.m. After the meal, a short program will be held at 4:30 p.m. in the church's parish hall museum, where an extensive display honoring the military service of Leer's native sons will be available for viewing.
"There are lots of stories we should remember," said Linda Pletcher, who has taken the lead in putting the exhibit together and on researching the lives of the four veterans who died during wars past.
"That's what Memorial Day is all about. We will also be thinking of the young men and women who are currently serving their country," she said.
Pletcher is touched by the stories of the four being commemorated, who include Louis Hawkinson, a U.S. Army serviceman during World War I who died in France in 1918. From letters sent home during the war, she was able to piece together that Hawkinson and his best friend and neighbor, Martin G. Hansen, joined the Army at the same time and ended up serving in France in the same unit. While there, the two apparently shared all of the letters they received from family back home until influenza, known as the Spanish flu of 1918, sent Hawkinson to a hospital, where he ultimately died.
"Martin wrote home that the two of them couldn't share letters from home anymore because Louis was in the hospital," Pletcher said. "Louis didn't die until after the war, but he never left France. Another letter Martin wrote about his coming home stated that he was sad he wouldn't be bringing Louis back with him."
Donald Hansen, a casualty of World War II, is another Leer native son who will be remembered Sunday. Pletcher was able to obtain information regarding him from his niece in Oregon. A radio operator, Hansen was in the wave of American soldiers who made the initial landing on Iwo Jima. He and two others were charged with setting up radio equipment, but immediately upon landing two of the three, including Hansen, were killed by mortar fire. The story of how Hansen died ultimately was retold years later by the third soldier who survived that deadly day.
The other two honorees also lost their lives in World War II. Like Hansen, U.S. Marine Howard Nevins died on Iwo Jima during that same initial landing.
"The battle for Iwo Jima was relatively short and lasted just 32 days, but the multitude of people who died in it was horrific," Pletcher said.
Among items on display Sunday will be a church bulletin from the memorial service that was held for Nevins and the last words that he wrote to his parents, expressing how he hoped he could make it back home to the family. Though Nevins was killed in 1944, his body didn't come back to the U.S. until 1948.
According to Pletcher, Nevins was one of many who were interred on Iwo Jima at the time of their deaths and then later dug back up and brought home for burial. Also included among the display are some of the words that were spoken by a minister during the interment ceremony on Iwo Jima.
Henry Jensen, the fourth war casualty to be highlighted, died on Saipan. Today, his sister, Alma Wong, still attends Leer Lutheran Church. Musically inclined just liked his sister who played the church organ for years, Jensen loved to play the banjo. Visitors to the church museum will be able to see his banjo.
The small museum located on the second floor of the church parish hall pays homage to those who served in every conflict, starting with the Spanish American War and proceeding up through Dessert Storm. A history major while in college, Pletcher is passionate about the importance of remembering and recording the history of those who served their country. She also hopes it will inspire other communities to do the same thing.
The public is invited to attend the Memorial Day celebration. A free will offering will be taken to benefit the Leer Heritage Foundation.