RIVER FALLS – The American Legion Post 121 held a Memorial Day program at Greenwood Cemetery on May 30. 

The program began with the Post 121 Honor Guard posting Colors. Each flag with a different military branch was represented during the posting.

Post 121 Commander Melissa Hildebrandt took the podium to welcome the attendees. Pastor Scott Jenson gave the invocation before the Croix Cordsman performed. 

The Cordsman sang songs for each different branch of the military. Veterans were asked to stand when their song was performed.

Next came a tribute to Gold Star Mothers. The presentation was done by Margaret Larson, Unit 121 Auxiliary President. 

Bret VanBlaircom, 3rd Vice Commander of Post 121, recognized Gerald Matteson. His military service spanned 32 years in the Wisconsin National Guard.

Matteson was a former member of the River Falls American Legion. His time at the Legion included organizing three successful blood drives and starting bingo. He died in January 2018.

One highlight of the event came during a tribute to John Chapman. Chapman was born in River Falls in 1942 before enlisting in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps in college. He later joined the Marine Air Force Aviation Corps.

Chapman was killed in Jan. 1968 in Vietnam when his helicopter crashed into a mountain due to poor weather conditions. Chapman, his crew members and 41 passengers were killed instantly.

Nathan Ireland portrayed Chapman, reciting Chapman’s story from his point of view. Ireland was dressed in period clothing from the Marine Air Force Aviation Corps. 

He portrayed Chapman by recounting events leading up to Chapman’s service. He ended the presentation by recalling Chapman’s final thoughts before takeoff.

“It should be a routine flight if everything goes to plan,” Ireland said in character. “I should wrap up so I can get my final orders before I board.” 

The program continued with the River Falls High School band playing various songs before Hildebrandt took to the podium again to give a speech to honor all the deceased veterans from the Post within the last year. After each name was read, a bell was rung to honor their service.

Jim Bohn performed the national anthem as the ceremony concluded. Jenson returned to the podium to give the benediction. 

The Post 121 Honor Guard gave a rifle salute to honor the dead after the benediction. “Taps” was performed after the salute. 

The flag raising ceremony was conducted by the Chapman family before the closing comments. They were the honorary family for the program. 

Hildebrandt gave the closing remarks, thanking veterans for their service. She also gave thanks to attendees of the program. 

The Post 121 Honor Guard retired the Colors, officially ending the program. Hildebrandt then invited attendees to the Post 121 Legion for lunch. The lunch was free and complemented by the Legion.

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