A day of remembrance: American Legion holds Memorial Day service

The American Legion Post 1015 hosted retired Army Maj. Mike Kessel at a special Memorial Day service Monday at Riverside Cemetery. This year marked the 150th observance of Memorial Day.

Kessel has lived in Mahomet for 21 years and he served as a commander in Iraq, leading a group of 120 Illinois men in 2004-05. He retired from the service in 2006.

Kessel's speech thanked veterans for their service. But he also didn't forget about their families who see their loved ones leave for months to protect our country.

"Thank you to all our veterans in our attendance today," Kessel said. "Thank you for your service and for your willingness to step up and serve our country when they needed you.

"Special thank you to the families, who while they may not wear the uniform, they give up time with their loved ones. Families are forced to live without their soldier for a year or more. Everyone focuses on the soldier, but his or her family deserves just as much respect as well. So, thank you."

Kessel hasn't served for over 12 years, but he still remembers what the battlefield was like. On Saturday, Sept. 18, 2004, Kessel was trying to secure a road in Iraq when two suicide bombers blew themselves up.

One bomber blew himself up just 50 yards in front of Kessel. The other was 500 yards in the rear. The detonation was so powerful it blew a hole in the overpass. Eight soldiers were seriously wounded and two lost their lives.

"People ask me, 'Why do soldiers do what they do?'" Kessel said. "My answer is always the same. If you love something, you have to be willing to stand up and protect it, even if that means death.

"I reminded my soldiers after that day that we had seen things no human should ever see. But I reminded them that it was far better for us to do that in Baghdad, Iraq, than Main Street in Mahomet or Prospect Avenue in Champaign."

Kessel remarked multiple times about the troubling state of the country. Mass shootings have become almost common, which saddens Kessel.

"I grew up in a world where the very thought of a mass shooting was unthinkable," Kessel said. "We seem to have an active shooter every week; no one gets along with someone different from themselves. I am saddened and frustrated at the school shootings and I ask why.

"Many are quick to blame the gun, an inanimate option. It is not a G-U-N problem, it is a S-I-N problem. It is evil of the heart. The gun doesn't kill any more than one of these cars or SUVs. It is the person behind the wheel or the trigger."

Kessel urged people to start to have dialogue with those who don't agree with all of their beliefs, because U.S. citizens must work together instead of constantly trying to tear each other apart.

Ronald Griffith, a longtime Mahomet resident, served in the Vietnam War from 1963-65. Griffith has lived in Mahomet since 1979 and was one of many veterans who attended the service.

"I feel honored by the presence of everyone showing up for it," Griffith said. "It gives us a little honor to be proud to serve. I loved his message. I can relate to what he was saying."

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