Idaho Falls recognizes vets with 1,000 flags

Greg Merrell, a Vietnam-era veteran from Idaho Falls, looks over the Field of Honor Memorial at Freeman Park on Monday morning. A thousand American flags were on display over the weekend at the park, attracting hundreds of visitors each day.

Tears were shed at Freeman Park on Monday as three veterans — one each from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines — stood around a small dining table known as the “Missing Man Table” for the missing man ceremony.

The missing man ceremony, according to the Department of Defense, features a symbolic table setting that represents the sacrifice of those service members who have been prisoners of war or still are listed as missing. About 88,000 U.S. service members are recorded as missing or unaccounted for since World War II, the website said.

The three veterans concluded Monday’s ceremony by sprinkling salt on slices of lemon.

“The slice of lemon represents the bitter fate of the missing,” U.S. Navy veteran Bob Reinisch explained to the approximately 200-person crowd. “The salt represents the fallen tears of families as they wait.”

The missing man ceremony was a part the Exchange Club of Idaho Falls’ second-annual Field of Honor Memorial ceremony. The three-day event centered around a display of 1,000 three-foot by five-foot U.S. flags planted on the hill adjacent to the Idaho State Vietnam War Memorial in Freeman Park.

Event Chairman David Smith said for $30, people could dedicate a flag to a loved one by attaching a certificate to it. For an extra $25, patrons could take the flag home.

Smith said approximately 300 flags had been sponsored Monday, and twice as many people showed up this year as did last year.

“It’s probably the most-photographed place in town,” Smith said.

U.S. Army veteran Don Curtis, who served in Vietnam, drove up from Pocatello with his wife to attend the event.

“It was better than anything over there,” Curtis said.

Net proceeds from the event will go to Help Inc., Idaho Falls Crime Stoppers, and yet-to-be determined local Veteran’s groups.

Monday’s closing ceremonies also featured speeches by David Adler, director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper and Idaho Falls City Council Member Barbara Ehardt

Casper delivered an emotional speech stressing the importance of the day.

“It’s vital that we celebrate Memorial Day,” Casper said. “If we don’t, we risk forgetting the lives, sacrifices, reasons, limitations, pains, losses and the victories. We risk losing part of our humanity. We risk losing our way.”

Reporter Ali Tadayon can be reached at 542-6746.