Private memorials are not unusual in the area’s veteran memorials – a kneeling solitary figure or parents helping children find an ancestor’s name inscribed on the wall of a monument.
Often it is up to the descendants of a veteran to pass on what they know about their family member’s military service.
Anna Thill, President of Visit Mankato, is part of a new group of representatives from Mankato-North Mankato who are connecting to find ways to share the stories of the men and women of the region who have served their country, especially those who gave their lives to do so.
Visit Mankato offers a downloadable map of 14 sites where the public can pay tribute to the country’s military. However, the memorials found over the 12 mile long Heroes’ Trail may come up with lists with many names, but may lack details of honorees.
âWe want to identify how storytelling could be improvedâ¦ how we can better tell their stories,â Thill said.
Members of the new group who have military ties were tasked with collecting family stories about members who were soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Ideas include mobile apps and videos.
âWe want to add the voices of families,â she said.
A revised online map is expected to be available sometime in 2022.
Thill said she now had no way of tracking the number of people visiting the Mankato and North Mankato memorials. Data from the new interactive map could prove useful when his organization invites veterans groups from neighboring communities to add their sites to the map.
“For example, Saint-Pierre recently has a new memorial and may want to join.”
North Mankato’s American Legion Post 518 Vet of the Month program already provides a vehicle for sharing the stories of deceased veterans. Since 2008, the post has offered monthly flag ceremonies at Wheeler Park.
“It’s for families … a family wants to honor their father, uncle, brother, sister – their life,” said Mark Conrad, a member of the station who organizes the ceremonies.
“I saw a lot of people with tears in their eyes,” he said.
Conrad knows firsthand what it feels like to see an honor guard at attention as a loved one’s military history is read aloud. He said attendees may experience emotions, such as pride, that feel stronger than expected.
His father, Albert Conrad, was a World War I army veteran who didn’t care to talk about his war experiences in France. He told his son about a battle in which only about 50 percent of his buddies survived. Yet her father provided very few details.
The siblings, descendants and other relatives of two local deceased veterans were presented after the July ceremony where Navy Chief Petty Officer 3rd Class Beatrice (Morsching) Zimmerman was removed from the flag and Marine Pfc. Donald F. Zernechel’s flag was inaugurated.
During the ceremony, Julie Scott received the flag that had been displayed throughout the month of June in honor of Zimmerman.
“It was a wonderful experience … but a little strange when they played Taps,” she said.
âI thought, ‘Here is, Grandma, I hope you enjoy this. I know it was something she would have done to honor someone else.
Air Force veteran Anita Janda sat next to her niece Scott. Janda had requested the arrangements to publicly honor her mother.
Scott and Janda said Zimmerman told them about the friendships she made with other women who also served in World War II. Most of these military friends had tasks that included sewing buttons on officers’ uniforms. The two descendants shared a chuckle when they recalled Zimmerman’s description of how she had handled flirtations from a married officer: a rebuke that included a comment that people wearing such messy uniforms had no chance to date her.
1st sergeant. Sadie Rezac, a member of the 175th Forward Support Company and originally from St. James, was not at the ceremony; however, she has ancestors who would, or possibly could, qualify for the honor. A legacy of military service flows from both sides of his family tree. Being the granddaughter of two veterans was seen as “part” of her decision to join the Minnesota Army National Guard.
âOne grandfather is WWII, the other is Korean War,â she said, then listed the service of other relatives.
“I joined shortly after 9/11, but even if that hadn’t happened, I probably would have joined at some point.”
Her professional journey took her to the position of Area Manager for the Southern Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, an organization that helps homeless veterans.
Janda was recently named the first female post commander of the American Legion Center.
Scott did not follow in the military footsteps of his grandmother and aunt. But she married retired military policeman Colin Scott, who now teaches at Tri City United Schools.
The Scots have two young sons who attended their great-grandmother’s ceremony. Kindergarten Jack and preschooler Adam learned the basics of military respect, such as holding hands over hearts during the national anthem.
In May, the boys were with their parents at a Memorial Day service, when Julie Scott realized the purpose of the ceremony was not lost on Jack.
âHe said to me, ‘Mum, a lot of people are dead, are dead.’