COPPER HARBOR - If there is one important thought Robert Botkins wanted to convey to a group of hundreds Monday, it's that freedom is not free.
Botkins, a Vietnam veteran and member of the Keweenaw Detachment No. 1016 Marine Corps League, was the featured speaker at a special Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park in Copper Harbor Monday where he stood before a crowd of families and gave a speech about the importance of Memorial Day.
"This is a tough act to follow," Botkins said of a group of Copper Harbor School students dressed in red, white and blue after their performance. "These kids, they said it all."
Stacey Kukkonen/Daily Mining Gazette
Students from the Copper Harbor School, including Luke Sundeen, Gabby Westcott, Richard Probst, Taylor Probst, Aili-Drew Tulppo and Audrey Robinson, perform with teacher’s assistant Suzi Gerstberger during the Memorial Day ceremony at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park in Copper Harbor Monday.
Botkins' Memorial Day address followed music by the Amazing Grace Praise Band, an invocation by Bonnie Harrer, a colors presentation by Keweenaw Detachment No. 1016 Marine Corps League, the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and a series of songs by the school children, including Richard Probst, Audrey Robinson, Aili-Drew Tulppo, Taylor Probst, Luke Sundeen and Gabby Westcott.
"That's where it's at," he said. "And I'd like to start my address by saying freedom is not free."
Botkins said the tradition of Memorial Day started in 1868 and was meant to be a day to honor all war deaths and men and women who lost their lives in duty.
"Flags were to be flown half-staff until noon," he said.
The holiday is celebrated throughout the country and honors those who served in many wars, such as World War I where 116,700 men lost their lives. Botkins said 416,800 men and women lost their lives protecting American's freedom in World War II. During the Korean War, 54,000 men and women lost their lives and 58,256 names are on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
"Our freedom that we so dearly love is at times taken for granted did not come free," he said. "Freedom of the press was not won for us by the journalists. It was won for us by the military and the veterans."
Botkins honored the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces today, calling them true patriots knowing they may be deployed someday and by continuing to enlist to protect freedom.
"There are also other patriots; there are patriots back at home," he said. "Those patriots are the wives, the children, the mothers, the fathers, brothers, sisters and friends who support, pray and miss their family members that are in the military."
Botkins said he cane feel the loss and pain and said "Thank you" to the veterans and military personnel in attendance Monday.
He also noted more than 6,500 men and women have died in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"How can we continue to show our patriotism?" he asked. "By flying the flag honorably and proudly."
In closing, Botkins asked the crowd to listen to the American Flag whipping in the wind overhead, which he called the sound of freedom.
During his address, crowds of people sat in the grass at Fort Wilkins while the sun peeked out through the clouds. Earlier in the day, the program prevailed through gray skies where the schoolchildren sang a series of songs, including "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America." They also dedicated several bouquets of flowers to those who have died in wars, and also to those who died in the attacks Sept. 11, 2001.
Cody Campioni holding the American Flag, and the Keweenaw Detachment No. 1016 Marine Corps League, which included Frank Kinnunen, Ken Harju, Jim Gonzales, Jim Mattson, Ken McKay and Bob Rashleigh, closed the ceremony to the tune of "Taps" being played.