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Thousands honor loved ones at Battle Creek’s Fort Custer for Memorial Day

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BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Memorial Day for Richard Anderson hasn’t been the same for over a decade. For most people, it’s a day of grilling and gabbing. For him it’s a day to honor his father at Fort Custer National Cemetery.

“My dad was in World War II and he passed away 12 years ago,” said Anderson with his two boys.  “We always come out with flowers and my mom’s buried with him too.”

His parents are among the 30,000 people buried at the national cemetery. Officials at Fort Custer said that 10,000 people visited the cemetery to honor their loved ones today.

“It’s Memorial Day,” said Catherine Hefke poignantly. “It’s to remember the men and women of the past that fought. Not just the past but the ones that have lost their lives.”

People honored their loved ones with flowers, wreaths and balloons. Many families walked hand-in-hand or side-by-side searching for their relative’s headstone on the 770-acred cemetery. It took several people up to an hour to locate it. But once they found it, they huddled around it remembering their loved one’s life and sacrifice. Hefke, who’s visited the cemetery many times, said she uses this day as an opportunity to get people talking about their loved ones.

“It’s nice to be able to ask them ‘What was your brother like?’" said Hefke. “'Besides just being a great guy, what did he do? What did he like to do? What was he about that made him who he is?’"

Anderson said his father went to war before he was born. But he recalls his father telling him that he really wanted to be on ship so he joined the Navy. However when he was deployed, everything changed.

“He got to north Africa and they gave him a backpack and a rifle, he said,” said Anderson. “He said ‘What’s this?’ They said ‘You’re part of the invasion force.’ And he didn’t realize that until he got there.”

His father fought in the war for four years. There’s now an American flag placed near his headstone. Officials said 1500 volunteers placed 28,000 flags near each headstone over the weekend.

“I am glad that somebody in the past, or peoples in the past, took the time and cared enough to set aside property so that we could have these cemeteries to put our veterans [in].” said Hefke. “How are ancestors were it affects us today.”

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