World War II ended 70 years ago, but Myron Roker still feels the pain of battle. He served with 324th Infantry Regiment of the 44th Infantry Division on VE Day. The 93-year-old now lives in Glenwood, Iowa, and still carries shrapnel from a wound sustained in France. His hearing is almost gone, stolen by explosions in war.
But the most painful wound he carries is the loss of friends in combat.
“Freedom is not free,” says Roker. “We have to pay for it. Those are the heroes. The wounded and the ones that gave their lives.”
Memorial Day has a deep, personal meaning for Roker.
“I lost a close buddy over in France to one of our own mines. Sometimes I still tear up,” Roker said.
He and his wife, Karen, spend Memorial Day at the graves of family members in their hometown of Clatonia, Nebraska.
A Family Tradition of Service
Thomas Shimerdla’s family has a proud military tradition. When he was fighting in Vietnam, so was his brother. His father served during World War II in the 14th Army Air Force. His grandfather fought in France during World War I.
When Shimerdla was a youngster, Memorial Day meant visits to cemeteries with his father and grandfather to honor veterans.
Shimerdla enlisted in the U.S. Navy Seabees when he was 19. He spent two years serving in Vietnam, a war that took more than 58,000 American lives. “I lost classmates in Vietnam. I think about them on Memorial Day,” he says.
He fought in the devastating Tet Offensive in 1968 that turned Americans against the war. Many who fought faced danger in Vietnam and disdain in the United States.
For Shimerdla, Memorial Day is about spending time with his children and grandchildren.
Before suffering injuries in a motorcycle accident in October, he was part of the American Legion Riders, and rode with them to a cemetery on Memorial Day. “I was proud to be there, honoring soldiers who were killed,” he says.
The motorcycle enthusiast also rides with the Patriot Guard Riders, formed to provide shield from harassment at the funerals of “Fallen Heroes.”
Tradition and Family
Susan Eustice says tradition is a big part of her holiday. She agrees that time with family is what Memorial Day is about. For four generations, her family has spent Memorial Day at Lake Okoboji.
“My mother was six weeks old when she first spent the holiday at the lake,” Eustice says.
Her mother’s paternal grandparents, the Rectors, built a home at the beach. Eustice is also related to the Clarke family, who were among the first families to settle on Okoboji’s Omaha Beach.
This year Susan and her husband, attorney Bill Eustice, plan to enjoy fireworks, boating, swimming, sailing, biking, and dinners with family members. He and his band, The Firm, will perform at the Barefoot Bar.
They haven’t missed a Memorial Day celebration at Lake Okoboji in three decades. For them, the day is about tradition.