Freedom’s beacon

Community pays tribute to veterans at luminary ceremony

BIG RAPIDS — Despite the crowd of adults and children gathered around roughly 80 luminary bags in Highland View Cemetery on Friday night, not a noise could be heard as the Veterans Day Luminary Tribute commenced.

(Pioneer photo/Kyle Leppek)

Solemnly holding candles, the crowd hushed as the opening ceremony in the Big Rapids cemetery undertook before allowing the public to tour the grounds and view the luminaries scattered about. Speakers Maj. Bryan Kirby, of the Michigan Army National Guard, and Dr. John Schmidt, a Ferris State University professor, offered their words on what Veterans Day means to them.

During his speech, Kirby asked the audience to think of the sacrifices military personnel and their families make daily. He reminded the crowd that 1,200 young men and women from around the state and in the community recently left for combat, some for their second or third time.

“Veterans like these do remarkable things every single day. Yet remarkably, these service members don’t see themselves as being brave or special; they just say they are doing their jobs,” he said. “They fight for our security in an unsecure world because that is what they promised they would do.”

Schmidt took the podium after Kirby and spoke about his son who is enlisted in the Air Force. Pride, and sometimes tears, overwhelmed his voice as he described the immense respect he has for his son.

“While (my son) is an officer, he is so quick to point to the enlisted personnel who join the service and immediately find themselves in the heat of battle. These, he says, are the true heroes,” Schmidt said. “He’s not wrong, but he is reluctant to use that term on himself.”

Drawing parallels to some of the abuses Vietnam veterans received when returning home, Schmidt reminded the crowd of the respect veterans deserve.

After the ceremony, the gates were opened and the public drove through the cemetery admiring the luminaries that lit the grave of each veteran.

In it’s second year, the tribute is coordinated by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Big Rapids and the Big Rapids

Eagles Post No. 2535. The ceremony was inspired by the Battle of Antietam memorial illumination which remembers the fallen, wounded or missing of the Civil War battle.

Gladeen Nicolas, of Big Rapids, said she enjoyed seeing the luminaries knowing that many men and women from the community served in the military. Jane Grzybowski, also of Big Rapids, came to the ceremony to honor everyone who has served or is serving and the wonderful job that they do for our country, she said.

Shelly McHugh, co-chair of the tribute, was thrilled by the turnout and the support of the community.

“So far (the luminary) is absolutely beautiful. We had a great turnout for the ceremony and our speakers were just absolutely fantastic,” McHugh said. “I think people realize that they need to honor the vets. It’s a good dose of history for our children and it brings camaraderie to my generation and the generation before me to see that people still care about the fight that (veterans) gave to give us our freedom.”

On the somber night, with quiet engines rolling through the cemetery full of people admiring the dimly lit graves of veterans, Kirby finished his speech with a simple reminder of how to thank veterans.

“On this Veterans Day, I urge you not to just utter words of thanks to our veterans, but let your actions be the torch that you hold high,” he said. “Don’t just say thank you to our veterans, show it.”

Visit the photo gallery to see more photos from the Veterans Day Luminary Tribute.

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