Sharon Runcorn came from Dickinson to visit her husband, brother-in-law and some friends who are buried Monday at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery.
Her husband, Duane Runcorn, was stationed in Vietnam as a supply specialist and died in 2020 of COVID-19. Married for 51 years, Sharon Runcorn said she couldn’t even begin to talk about all the good memories they shared. She said she stopped by the cemetery whenever she was in town to have a long chat with Duane, which made her feel a little better.
“It’s always hard to come back but that’s what it is,” Runcorn said. “But it’s a beautiful ceremony and it’s a beautiful place.”
Runcorn was one of many who gathered at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military. Guard spokesman and co-organizer of the ceremony, Bill Prokopyk, said about 1,800 people attended.
The annual Memorial Day service was not marred by the weather, although a flyover by two North Dakota National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters had to be cancelled. Those present brought umbrellas and blankets and drank hot chocolate to protect themselves from the cold.
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Maj. Gen. Al Dohrmann, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard, said Monday’s ceremony was another example of the state’s wholehearted appreciation and support for those who served, which , he says, makes North Dakota so special.
“It’s a beautiful day. Every day that we can come together and honor our veterans and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice is beautiful,” Dohrmann said at the ceremony. “You think about what our soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines have been through in their service and putting up with a little bit of humidity is no big deal.”
Gov. Doug Burgum, U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer and Rep. Kelly Armstrong, all RN.D., also delivered remarks at the ceremony.
Burgum said it’s important to express gratitude to our veterans through words and actions, pointing to recent legislation that benefits those who serve and their families.
“Our goal is to make North Dakota the most military-friendly state in the nation and we’re on track and we can get there,” Burgum said. “We know that our debts to them can never be fully repaid. The sacrifice, however, can inspire us to continue to remember how lucky we are to live in this country, so that we all continue to fight for the future. of America and for all. It is up to us to support our service members and their families in any way we can.”
Cramer and Hoeven echoed that sentiment. Both mentioned their Burial Equity for Guards and Reserves Act, which passed earlier this year. The bill would make members of the National Guard and reserves eligible for burial in state veterans’ cemeteries without those cemeteries losing access to federal grants, which Hoeven says is the least they deserve.
“Whether it’s Memorial Day, whether it’s Veterans Day, but every day our veterans need to know there’s a place for them,” Hoeven said.
Prior to the ceremony, hundreds of motorcycles took part in a Bismarck Honor Race to the cemetery. Francis Fritz, from Bismarck, said she usually leaves early to avoid traffic, but decided to stay to see the motorbikes, which really impressed her.
She came to visit her husband, Ernest Fritz, who traveled the world while serving in the Navy from 1951 to 1955 and died in November 2020. They had been married for 62 years.
“It was long, that’s why it’s really hard to get over it,” she said. “But you have to do what you have to do.”
Contact Alex Kautzman at 701-250-8255 or [email protected]