BELDING — For several veterans and residents in the Belding community, Monday was a step back in time.
Several hundred members of the community gathered for the first of what will become many Memorial Day services at the new Freedom Wall and Veterans Park in downtown Belding.
The wall, an incarnation of the original wall that was torn down 64 years ago, features the names of more than 700 area veterans who fought and served in World War II.
Members of the Belding VFW Post 4406 and American Legion Post 203, joined by members of the Belding Middle School band, marched together down Depot Street to the new park in similar fashion to how Memorial Day was observed at the original wall.
Belding resident and veteran Denny Craycraft, who spearheaded the effort to see the wall constructed and finished last November, was overwhelmed with emotion when he finally took to the microphone to dedicate a new memorial that stands before the wall honoring members of every branch of the military, as well as hundreds of bricks placed within the concrete surface of the park inscribed with the names of veterans.
“What a crowd, what a town!” he exclaimed. “We all know why we’re here. From 1942 to 1948 when this wall stood over on the corner a block away from us, every year memorial services were held by the blue star and gold star mothers to pay tribute to our soldiers.”
Craycraft said without the combined effort of the members of the local VFW and American Legion, there would have been no wall, let alone a memorial service attended by hundreds of community members.
“Between these two veterans organizations, we’ve come together and hopefully we will continue this,” he said. “Looking at all of you in this crowd, I can’t tell you how pleased we are to be here today with you standing with us.”
U.S. Navy veteran John Doran, along with his wife, Gail, attended Monday’s event and were both excited to see a grand ceremony occurring in downtown Belding once again.
“I think it’s just absoutely wonderful,” Gail Doran said. “I’m always amazed at how great the people around here are. After 50-some years, it’s amazing to see our veterans getting recognition.”
“We’re all real pleased,” John Doran said. “Denny has done a hell of a job.”
Once members of the VFW and American Legion finished their march to the park, Pastor Roger May of Grace Bible Church offered a few words in honor of those who have served their country.
“We mark and mention the activities today of many of those who have served our county well,” he said. “I am humbled, astonished and awed by the patriotism that we see around us.”
May then quoted scripture from the Bible, citing an example stressing the importance of children being taught the importance of history, and then continued further with his speech.
“I think it’s especially important today that we teach our children and our grandchildren about our great legacy,” he said. “Freedom is not free. It costs. For some, it costs everything.”
Leroy Martin, post commander of the Belding VFW, then shared some thoughts on Memorial Day itself.
“To the men and women of the different branches in the armed forces serving in troubled nations around the world as well as protecting U.S. soil, to preserve the freedom we fought so hard to get, this is their day,” he said. “From the bottom of my heart, I say thank you and God bless you all.”
May then delivered the “eternal blessing” with a prayer focused on thanking God for the many freedoms enjoyed today and for the service given by veterans and current members of the armed forces.
Following the prayer, Wanda Bunting of the VFW and Jen Six of the American Legion placed two wreathes on the Freedom Wall in honor of veterans who have fought and died while serving.
“Flowers may wither, but the spirit of which they are the symbol will endure until the end of time,” both Bunting and Six recited together.
The Belding Middle School Band then played the national anthem, which followed by a military gun salute by the honor guard and the playing of taps on trumpet by Middle School eighth grade student, Leanna Willingham, 14. Belding resident Pat Sage delivered a rendition of “God Bless America” to the crowds’ delight to bring the service to an end.
Craycraft concluded the ceremony by thanking the people of Belding for making Monday’s event at the Freedom Wall a possibility.
The wall, park, and new memorial honoring all branches of the military, have been built strictly by donations from community members and local businesses.
“The spirit of this town is second to none,” he said. “I’m so proud to be a member of this community. The veterans, and I’m sure I speak with all my heart to these veterans in this community, we thank you people in the community for stepping up and making this happen.”