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Hundreds gather on Capitol Campus for Memorial Day service

Eight-year-old Adam Wessling of Lacey said he understands the meaning of Memorial Day.

“It’s all about veterans who fought… and the people who died,” he said. “We’re celebrating in their honor.”

Wessling and his parents were among hundreds of people who attended the annual Memorial Day service Monday in the Legislative Building’s rotunda on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.

Sponsored by the Thurston County Veterans Council, the event featured patriotic music, prayers, cannon and rifle salutes, speeches and appearances by local dignitaries.

“We pray for those who fought the good fight and finished before us,” chaplain RD Norleen with VFW Post 318 said during the event.

U.S. Rep. Denny Heck told the crowd that for him, the holiday stirs up a mix of emotions including reverence, sadness, humility and gratitude, as he thinks about military members who have died in service.

“We remember them every day, Memorial Day, in particular,” he said.

Heck also led a moment of silence for six U.S. Marines who died earlier this month in a helicopter crash while on a relief mission in earthquake-hit Nepal. Memorial Day isn’t just for the war dead, it’s for all who have died in military service, Heck said. It’s also a day to honor their families, he added.

The event’s keynote speaker, Arlene Murray, president of the Gold Star Wives Tahoma Chapter, urged those in attendance to take time and thank veterans for their service “before it’s too late.”

“Life is precious and it can change in an instant,” said Murray, a Graham resident whose husband died while on active duty in the military in 1988. “It’s OK to shed a tear. It’s OK to give a hug.”

Vietnam veteran Ken Wojczynski of Lacey and others with VFW 318’s Honor Guard participated in several services over the Memorial Day weekend, including a waterside service on Sunday and the Rotunda service and events at two local cemeteries on Monday. He’s participated in similar observances for 25 years, and now at age 73, he said he’s ready to retire and give his spot on the Honor Guard to another vet.

Wojczynski said it’s upsetting that the holiday has become so commercialized. It’s not about car sales, he added.

“I’m thinking of all those who gave their lives so we have the freedom we have,” Wojczynski said. “It’s about remembering those that gave all.”

Also on Monday, a crowd gathered at the Vietnam War Memorial for a rally organized by motorcycle groups known as the Olympia Thunder Run. Lisa Davidson of Bremerton described it as “somber.”

She said the military has always been a big part of her life, and noted that she’s grateful for all veterans, especially those who have sacrificed their lives for others.

“We need to pay our respects, and remember them,” Davidson said. “And never forget.”

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