In its seventh year, the annual flag-placement event Saturday morning at Mount Union Cemetery featured a new look with a new twist. Memorial Day doesn’t arrive on the calendar until May 31, but organizers opted to expand those to be remembered with National Armed Forces Day and Peace Officers Memorial Day both falling on May 15.
“It seemed like a perfect fit to do it,” organizer Eric Niemann said following the ceremony, which appeared to have an estimated 100 people in attendance. “I think it was a pilot program today but it might be something we try again in the future.”
An impressive number of representatives were involved in the program, including the Oregon State University Army ROTC, Oregon Army National Guard, Benton County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Posse and Troop 161 Boy Scouts. Law enforcement agencies and first responders were among those in attendance.
“I think the word gets out and I think people with post-COVID and post 2020, it’s created a new level of patriotism. People want to get out and be part of their community,” Niemann said about the attendance this year. “I think this is a reflection of that.”
Bringing such an event together is important to the former Philomath mayor.
“I think I see so little of it these days … I think that’s why it makes it more important to do — remember the fallen and just given the amazing history this cemetery has,” Niemann said in response to a question about why he organizes the event at Mount Union every year. “I think a lot of people aren’t aware of it (the historic cemetery) and they need to be … it’s right here in our community. I think that’s why I do it.”
The program opened up with Niemann’s comments, introductions and thank-you’s. Allan Stensvad, retired First Baptist Church minister, then provided a prayer. Niemann spoke about the Civil War, veterans buried in the cemetery, peace officers and others who have served the country as members of the armed forces.
Included in those comments were mentions of Jimmy Appelgate, a member of the mounted posse that existed at the time who was shot and killed in Corvallis in 1955, and Deputy James Dunn, who suffered the same fate during an arrest in a downtown Corvallis saloon clear back in 1904.
Teri Appelgate Harold, the niece of Jimmy Appelgate, offered her perspective on her uncle’s death and the importance of recognizing the sacrifices of law enforcement on the Officer Down Memorial Page. City Council Teresa Nielson read Harold’s reflections at the cemetery.
“I don’t think we totally understand how our law enforcement officers are put in harm’s way continually and are instantly forced to make decisions for the greater good,” Harold wrote. “Way too often it is a sacrificial act of courage that ultimately takes their life. We owe them such a debt of gratitude, and especially during this climate of violence and disrespect for these brave men and women.”
Erin Haynes, who has been a part of past events to share his historical insight, shared his knowledge about Reuben Shipley, the former slave who became a landowner and in 1861 donated a portion of his acreage to create the cemetery.
Trumpeters Ken Saul and Trevor Wilson played while the BCSO Mounted Posse rode in — a “riderless horse” was included to represent the fallen — and special wreaths and a new flag were presented to cadets.
The OSU Army ROTC’s color guard retired the cemetery’s flag while “Taps” was played and then a new one went up with “To the Colors” filling the air. Boy Scouts led the “Pledge of Allegiance.”
Roger Blaine and his wife, Sandi Bean, and Sgt. 1st Class Jamel Mercado of the National Guard placed a wreath at the grave site of Reuben Shipley (Ficklin) while the trumpeters played “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Blaine and the Baha’i Faith in Corvallis and the NAACP Corvallis/Albany branch are involved with the creation of a highway marker that will honor Reuben and Mary Jane Shipley.
Following the ceremony, scores of people picked up American flags and spread throughout the cemetery to place on the graves of veterans. The cemetery serves as the final resting place for approximately 200 veterans.
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