Iuka carries on with 137th annual Memorial Day service despite weather concerns

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Iuka youth (from left) Lorelai Buck, Alison Helsel and Kiersten Buck helped with the 137th Iuka Memorial Day Service on Monday at the Iuka Cemetery and placed a flag on a special holder for each of the 179 fallen veterans buried there.

The Patriot Guard canceled due to weather conditions and the National Guard couldn't come to present the usual colors of the United States military, but Iuka Mayor Marsha Giggy and a township committee including Jane Ann Starrett and Marjorie Buck presented the 137th consecutive Iuka Memorial Day Ceremony anyway on a rainy, chilly May 31, 2021 at the Iuka Cemetery.

"We now have what I believe is the longest-running consecutive Memorial Day ceremony in Kansas," Giggy said. "We talked and Marjorie said we are going to have this, even if she had to go out and sing in the rain all by herself."

As it was, despite rain before and after, at 11 a.m. when the Iuka Memorial Day Ceremony started, just a light mist fell and the rain held off until the event was over.

"I am very delighted to have such a great turnout here today," Giggy said. "I know we are going to get soaked, I know your cars will get muddy, but this is such an important tradition to carry on."

More than 80 residents from the small town of Iuka, Pratt and the surrounding rural area stoically braved the weather to honor close relatives or those never known to them but whom had given their lives in military service. Military veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars as well as other later wars and conflicts were in attendance.

Pratt veterans of military service attending the Iuka Memorial Day ceremony on Monday, May 31, 2021 included (from left) Edward Naughton (Navy), Wayne Conkel (Korean War - Army), and Larry Popovich (Vietnam - helicopter pilot).

"I'm pretty new to the area so this was a great chance for me to get out and be with my fellow veterans and get to know some people," said Edward Naughton, a Navy veteran from Pratt. "I'm so glad they had this program."

Boy Scout Troop 201 and Cub Scout Pack 232 members handed out programs to those in attendance, dodging mud puddles and umbrella ends to reach those in attendance. Amplified by a tarp-covered sound system, Buck led the Pledge of Allegiance and, with her brave contralto voice, led those gathered in singing "God Bless America," accompanied only by the steady flapping of the United States flag in the wind.

After a passionate rendition of the Gettysburg Address recited for memory by Iuka teenager Kiersten Buck, Larry Briggeman solemnly read the names of 179 veterans of wars who are buried at the Iuka Cemetery. Each name was read twice, in military fashion, and when no response ensued, honored with a single drum beat, provided this year by Liam Kahmeyer. One name, inadvertently missed and read later by Buck, will be added next year, making the total of veterans buried in Iuka 180. There are only 170-175 actual residents in the town of Iuka.

"I heard my brother Johnny's name," said Korean War veteran Wayne Conkel, United States Army, Pratt. "I always looked up to him."

Even though his mobility has become somewhat limited, Conkel said there was no way he was going to miss this year's Memorial Day service, something he has made sure to attend every year since he was able to come home from his own service in Korea. He originally lived on a hog farm at Haviland with his large family.

Traditional services were not held in Pratt at the airport as in other years, likely because of weather, but Conkel said a little rain could not keep him away from Iuka to remember his real-life brothers as well as many brothers-in-arms.

Local sister-pairs of flower girls quietly laid three sets of flowers at the memorial stones during the Iuka ceremony marking the names of veterans buried there. Jacie and Goldie Hemphill, Reagan and Avery Blasi and Kate and Laura Briggeman provided a colorful, yet touching aspect of ceremony.

Pratt trumpeter Mark Graber played Taps to end the occasion, for which rain held off during most of the Memorial Day event.

"We are so proud of our community here and what we have been able to do for our veterans," Giggy said. "I think there are so many anymore who don't realize what a sacrifice has been made for them. So many have given their all. We can't mess this up."

Every fifth year, Giggy said the memorial service planning committee has hosted a community meal at the Iuka Methodist Church on Memorial Day. She hopes that tradition will continue next year. She would also like to see a traditional walk from the church to cemetery reinstated.

At the end of the 2021 Iuka Memorial Day ceremony, a wooden half circle filled with American flags, one for each name read placed by Lorelai Buck and Alison Helsel, was turned so the crowd could enjoy the visual, and the sun broke through the clouds to shine on the memorial.

A small crowd begins to gather in the rain at the Iuka Cemetery on Monday, May 31 for Memorial Day activities. By the time the ceremony started, the rain had stopped and more than 80 people came to take part in the event.
There was no official color guard to present the military flags, but there were colorful sister-pairs of local girls willing and able to present colored bouquets of flowers in honor of veterans at the Iuka Memorial Day service.
Trumpeter Mark Graber plays Taps for the 2021 Memorial Day Service at the Iuka Cemetery.
Ryan Hass, and fellow members of Boy Scout Troop 201 and Cub Scout Pack 232, hands a service program to Pratt veteran Wayne Conkel at the 2021 Iuka Memorial Day Service last Monday.
Jacie Hemphill helps her younger sister, Goldie, place yellow flowers at the base of monument stones on Memorial Day at the Iuka Cemetery.