Here to remember

Jennifer Stultz
Sue Ellen (Stockwell) Stultz, Hillsboro, came to Pratt on Sunday to place flowers at her parents' and other relatives' graves, and to honor her father, Ray Stockwell, a WWII soldier who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Memorial Day services for the city of Pratt were canceled but Iuka held their 136th traditional event.

For visitors like Sue (Stockwell) Stultz, coming home to Pratt on Memorial Day weekend is somewhat a bittersweet experience. She came from her home near Hillsboro, Kansas on Sunday to place flowers on her parents’ graves, Ray and Valeria Stockwell.

“They’ve been gone so long. I just wanted to feel close to them, just wanted to remember,” Stultz said.

Stultz, a Pratt native born in 1940, made the two-hour trip with her husband, Harold Stultz. Both are 80 years old, but they came despite a pandemic to remember, and to share some history with their granddaughter, Shelbi Stultz, who went with them to Greenlawn.

“My father was a WWII veteran and when he came back to Pratt after the war, he took over the Utz Flower Shop business with my mother,” Stultz said. “There are a lot of memories here.”

Visible evidence of other visitors also coming to Pratt to remember loved ones and veterans was in great abundance at the cemetery, in the form of colorful flowers, bouquets and flags.

“I can’t make it out every year,” Stultz said. “But when I can, coming here makes me feel sad because they are gone, but peace in my heart because I can honor them and their memories.”

Predicted stormy weather and coronavirus concerns caused the cancellation of some Memorial Day services in Pratt, but many traditions were carried on during the holiday weekend.

Mark Graber played taps at 3 p.m. at the Pratt Regional Airport Memorial Pavilion to a sparse listening audience, but other annual services were not held there due to safety concerns.

Members of the Isabel Sons of the American Legion honored veterans at Coats, Sawyer, Nashville and Isabel cemeteries with gun salutes and color guard traditions.

At the Iuka Cemetery north of Pratt, an abbreviated but well-attended 136th consecutive Memorial Day Program was held with known veterans from the Korean, Vietnam, Balkans and Persian Gulf wars in attendance. There may have been other conflicts represented.

Nearly 100 spectators and veterans stood in the wet air as taps were played, the roll call of Iuka’s veterans read with the beat of a drum for those who did not answer, young girls laid flowers at soldiers’ tombstone markers and area Boy Scouts stood at attention.

Iuka spokesperson Marjorie Buck said that no war, no weather and no pandemic could stop their small community from carrying on the tradition of honoring their veterans and memorializing the sacrifice made by those who passed before in the name of freedom.

For Sue Stultz, Memorial Day Weekend 2020 had some other unusual connections. Her father Ray Stockwell had been adopted at the age of 6 because his real father, Ora Paris, died in the flu epidemic of 1918. His mother, Edith (Hildreth) Paris also became very ill at that time, but survived along with her children, 7-year-old Roy and 6-month-old Ray. Edith later married Vernon Stockwell, who adopted Ray and raised both boys as his own sons.

“My family history was changed by the pandemic of 1918, just like many current families will have had their lives changed by the coronavirus pandemic of 2020,” she said. “I’m sure those were very difficult and trying times, just as they are now.”

Stultz said her family was also changed by the war. She was born just a few years before her father went into the service, but her sister Edith Griffin (who now lives in Hutchinson) and brother Walter Stockwell (who still lives in Pratt) came along much later. She said her father never talked about his war experiences and was a quiet, withdrawn man. But she was always proud of his service.

“Men like him, they gave up everything for the service of their country. So many lost their lives, and the ones who lived were never really the same,” she said. “We should not forget that.”