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Honoring vets, one grave at a time

He has a goal of putting a wreath on every veteran’s grave in Kandiyohi County for Christmas. But to achieve that goal he needs your help. There are close to 3,000 veteran’s graves in Kandiyohi County and coming up with that many wreaths is quite an undertaking as far as the cost goes. Ron Mackedanz of Kandiyohi has undertaken quite a task. He realizes that goal probably won’t be reached but he’s hopeful he can at least get wreaths on 600 graves. This project got its start a few years ago at the Arlington Cemetery in Washington. There was a man there who donated 3,500 wreaths and put them on the gravesites of veterans there, a project that’s been ongoing for five to six years. Two years ago Mackedanz was invited to take part in putting wreaths on grave sites in both Fort Snelling and Camp Ripley. Mackedanz was not able to make it so he decided he would do something locally. “I just went around to some of the places in town that had wreaths and asked if I could get some discounted wreaths. I put 125 wreaths on grave sites that first year, mostly out at Fairview on the Circle of Honor and also some others.” Some veterans from the New London area had died recently as well so he put wreaths on their gravesites too. He said he had help from a few people that year. “Last year I decided we would try to do a little bit more.” Mackedanz said they tried to raise money ahead of time. “The Blue Star Mothers have been a big help to me on this.” They have a 501C3 status and he’s able to work with them so all donations go through them. “They’re tax deductible because they’re a 501C3. They handle all the money. I don’t get involved with that at all. When I need to have something paid I notify them and they send a check to that party.” They put out somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 to 300 wreaths on area graves last year. Most of them were in the Willmar area, but they also went to Prinsburg and New London with the wreaths. “This year our plan is to put out 500 to 600 wreaths.” He’s worked it out with the people who are in charge of the cemeteries so they know that these wreaths aren’t going to be left out there. “Last year I went out between the middle and the end of January and picked up all the wreaths. I had to wade through quite a bit of snow to get to a lot of them but that’s okay. I promised these people I would have them out of there, and you do what you tell people you’re going to do and things work out.” Jon Lindstrand of Kandiyohi, and Mackedanz inventoried all the cemeteries in Kandiyohi County this summer. The County Veterans Service Office, American Legion Clubs and VFWs have lists of the veterans that are buried throughout Kandiyohi County. “We found these lists are lacking in some areas so Jon and I have inventoried the cemeteries. We’re not quite complete, we have three yet to finish up, but we have inventoried 69 of the 72 cemeteries in Kandiyohi County.” Mackedanz said a lot of these small cemeteries are very isolated. Fairview had 500 to 600 veterans buried there and Cloverleaf about the same amount. “Some of these don’t have military headstones so they’re hard to identify, but, whenever we can, we look at every headstone in the cemetery and if it ties in with our list, we check it out to make sure it is or isn’t the individual we’re looking for.” He gave credit to Donny Peterson who is in charge of the Veteran’s graves at Union Cemetery in Atwater. “His list has been great because it’s saved me from having to go over there and do things. He’s got all the information we need.” And with the list they’ve compiled they’re not just listing the individual’s name and date of death. “If we can find it we’re listing the conflict he was in, the branch of the service he was in, the rank he was, any extra information that would be on the headstone as far as who he served with, if he was killed or wounded in action or died in the service, we’re listing all that.” They’ll be putting all this information on a computer spreadsheet and they’ll be able to pull up the entire county by alphabetical order, and by individual cemeteries. “We’ll be able to pull up an individual conflict, we’ll be able to know how many civil war vets we have in the county and we have quite a number of civil war vets that are buried throughout the county. With our computer spreadsheet we can pick those out and have all that information readily available.” It’s been quite a task, Mackedanz said, and the end result is going to be well worth it. With the wreaths themselves, he said, the first year he went to various places and got some wreaths donated, some he paid for himself. This last year he had a lot of different individuals and organizations that helped with that. “Stacey’s Nursery and Angela have been a godsend to this project. She’s given us wreaths at a discounted price, she’s been more than happy to make up whatever number of wreaths we need. She’s told me again this year she’s willing to do the same thing again for us. I can’t say enough about Stacey’s Nursery and Angela, they’ve been bending over backwards to help us on this project and it’s wonderful to see that kind of participation from a local merchant.” Mackedanz said people can donate to this project individually by making the check out to the Minnesota Blue Star Mothers Chapter One of Pennock and, in the notation part of the check, put wreath project. By designating Chapter One that makes sure it stays within their chapter and doesn’t have to go to the state chapter of Blue Star Mothers. “The gals have been just wonderful.” Last year Mackedanz attempted to get things organized so the local scout troops would help them put the wreaths out but they got a late start and it didn’t work out the way they wanted it to. “This year we’re going to hit that a little bit earlier. We’re looking for some really good participation from the scout troops.” This will be a learning experience for the scouts, he said, and it will really help him out. “We know we’re not going to be able to put a wreath on every gravestone for every veteran in the county but if we can get say 500 or 600 out that makes a nice representation.” The county had a list with 1,800 veterans names. Lindstrand and Mackedanz have found over 2,300 so far and they’re not done yet. “We still have two cemeteries where I know there’s 70 in one and 130 in another and we haven’t finished Cloverleaf, yet, and we know there’s an additional 400 out there yet we haven’t documented.” When they get all done, he said, they expect to be pretty close to that 3,000 mark. Mackedanz said there is so much history in Kandiyohi County. “I’ve found going out to these cemeteries there’s so much history out there and so much to learn. For instance the Eagle Lake cemetery, by the lake, has five Civil War veterans buried there. The Union cemetery, at Atwater, has several. Tripolis Church, south of Kandiyohi, has one or two Spanish American war vets in it.” On one gravestone, they found it said Civil War on it but the individual buried there was only ten years old when the Civil War broke out. “We kind of question that. We think he was probably in the Indian war rather than the civil war. He was born in 1852 and the civil war broke out in 1862.” Mackedanz said it’s so interesting when you start finding these stones and it says born in 1827, 1835 and to think back on ‘wow that’s almost 200 years ago’ and to think what these people went through and sacrificed so we could have what we have today. “Even as you carry on through the Spanish American War, World War One, World War Two, and the Korean War…Korea, of course, was always referred to as the forgotten war and as I’ve delved more into the Korean history, for me its unimaginable what those guys went through.” Mackedanz said he went through the Vietnam War and spent time in the jungles in Vietnam. “It was hot and it was not a good scene but those guys in Korea, especially on the chosen reservoir, it was 25 and 30 below and they didn’t have any shelter to get out of it and they were out there for months, and how they ever survived and to think they had to fight off hordes of Chinese that were trying to overrun their positions.” Mackedanz said he has a new respect for the Korean War vets due to being involved in this project and getting to know more and more of the history. He’s hopeful that at some point someone will take the initiative with the wreath project. “It would be nice to find an organization or group of people that would be willing to take it and run with it now that it’s been established.” Mackedanz said they’ve just started fundraising and they need to collect $3,000 this year. “Right now, we have about $500 so we’ve got a long ways to go. We’re hoping the Legion Clubs, VFWs and other service clubs will come through with a nice piece of that. Last year we had quite a number of individuals that would send $10 to $50. Everything helps out.” He said they sent out letters to all the churches last year, figuring these church cemetery groups would be willing to do something. “I was a little disappointed there. We didn’t get any response, but hopefully this year we’ll get it out a little earlier – it was late when I got everything out last year.” He added, “whatever people can do is wonderful and I really appreciate it.” He said they try to honor special requests. If someone tells them their dad is buried in a certain cemetery and is a World War Two vet, and asks if they can put a wreath on his grave and donates money, they’ll put forth every effort possible to make sure they get a wreath on that individual’s grave. “We did that last year and we’ll try to do that again this year. There may be some cases when we can’t put them out. Some cemeteries don’t want us to put wreaths out at all in the wintertime even though we pick them up.” Another problem is they need to get those wreaths out before it snows and freezes. “We’re looking to put them out right after Thanksgiving. The plan is to get them out and have them all out by the first week in December.” Mackedanz said he has never kept track of the hours he puts into this project. “I’m a disabled vet myself so I’m not working. I do this as a volunteer type thing and call it a labor of love. It’s something I feel very strongly should be done.” Again, he said it would be nice to find groups or organizations within the communities that would take on the project and just go with it. “Then I wouldn’t have to do it on an individual basis but as long as they’re not doing it, I will.” If anyone is interested in becoming involved in the wreath project in some way or to make a donation they can call 320-382-6649. Monetary donations need to be sent directly to Ron Mackedanz, 9705 37th Avenue Southeast, Kandiyohi, Mn. 56251, or Blue Star Mothers in care of Ron Mackedanz and his address. Checks have to be made out to Blue Star Mothers, Chapter One. “I will be able to list the checks, who they’re from and keep track and get thanks you notes out to everyone. I will forward those checks on to the Blue Star Mothers and they’ll handle everything from there.”    Mackedanz is very involved with the veterans, and in addition to the wreath project is the ride captain for the Willmar sector of the Patriot Guard. He organizes anything that has to be taken care of in the Willmar area, whether it’s a funeral or whatever. They have over 200 members in the Willmar sector. In the event of a KIA mission where they’ve lost a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan, they get very good participation, he said. “People from throughout the state show up.” The last one they had was for Matthew Caylor from Granite Falls two years ago. His body was flown into Willmar and the Patriot Guard was there and met the family. “I never knew the family before that, and since then, Matthew’s dad and I have become very good friends and do things together.” Last January, on the anniversary of Matthew’s death, his father, Mackedanz and another friend went out to the gravesite, walked through two and a half feet of snow to get to the graveside, and brushed away the snow from his stone so they could see it. “This other friend brought a bottle of wine and three glasses and we stood out there in 15 degree weather and toasted Matthew. That was a neat gesture. It meant so much to his father.” Mackedanz said he could literally write a book about the Patriot Guard missions they’ve been on, the way the Patriot Guard has touched these people and their losses and the way the people have touched them. “It’s really been an experience.” The Patriot Guard is open to anyone who wants to join, the only thing they ask is that you show honor, dignity and respect for the family who has suffered the loss. “You don’t need a motorcycle, you don’t have to be a veteran, you can drive your car there, bring a 3×5 flag on a pole and be ready to stand in the flag line – just be there to show honor, dignity and respect to that family who has lost that solider.” Mackedanz said his world has expanded immensely over the last few years through the Patriot Guard and other things like that in which he’s been involved. “I’ve met and made so many good friends, there’s no money that could ever compare to what I’ve gained.”

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