LITTLE FALLS — Members of the Memorial Rifle Squad (MRS) were honored at a recent Christmas dinner that was served to 231 people at the Little Falls Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Club. The dinner was given in appreciation for the 300-plus volunteers of the Memorial Rifle Squad (MRS).
The squad is an all-volunteer group of veterans from central Minnesota, who assist with the burial ceremonies at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery near Camp Ripley, near Little Falls. The squad members were accompanied by their spouses and/or girlfriends. Each unit stood to be recognized along with their guests.
According to a report from the Little Falls VFW, Staff Sgt. Erik Sogge, Minnesota Military Funeral Honors, introduced his group of Minnesota Army National Guard soldiers, who fold and present the U.S. flag at each burial. Sogge thanked the MRS units for their efforts and showing respect for all deceased veterans. Sogge stated that he has been with the Minnesota Burial Honor Guard for seven years and is very proud to serve, since his grandfather was in the military. He also thanked the community for the support shown when their unit was deployed overseas.
David Swantek, Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery (MSVC) director at Little Falls, was introduced and thanked the MRS members for their services. Swatek talked about the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery. He said the cemetery is 35 acres and 20 percent of the area is occupied, so there is enough room for 50-plus years. In 2013, there were 415 burials to date, so there will be at least 430 by the end of the year. An expansion was started this summer, with $1.5 million, in the next 10 years, with most of the money coming from a federal grant. The new area will consist of 350 standard graves, 750 “in ground” cremation sites, 430 preplaced crypts.
On Dec. 14, “Wreathes Across America” placed approximately 4,000 wreathes on the graves at the cemetery in just 45 minutes. Swantek talked about the second State Veterans’ Cemetery located in southeast Minnesota near Preston. This cemetery is six times bigger than Little Falls, with 170 acres donated by Fillmore County. Swantek showed a video of the Memorial Rifle Squad at Ft. Snelling Cemetery. This video received an Emmy Award. It was put together by George Wiess, Jr. He received a citizens medal for his efforts.
There are 18 different units of MRS members from the area, who belong to the American Legion, the VFW, Disabled American Veterans, and other veterans’ groups. They assist the Minnesota National Guard with the burials by providing the rifle volley and taps playing at each burial. There are sometimes up to four burials per day. Each unit is assigned a day during the month to be available if there is a burial. The contingent involved usually consists or at least five people, one to play “Taps” and four to fire the rifles.
Each unit provides its own transportation to and from the cemetery, and they provide their own uniforms. The Memorial Rifle Squad is a nonprofit group, made up of the 18 units. The MRS provides the rifles and ammunition, the bugle, and cold weather jackets for the burials.
The contingents are from the following central Minnesota communities: Albany, Backus, Brainerd, Cold Spring, Eden Valley, Hillman, Jenkins. Little Falls, Monticello, New London, Onamia, Paynesville, Pine River and Randall. Richmond, St Augusta, St Cloud, St Joseph, St. Martin, Sartell, Spicer, and Waite Park.
The MRS was incorporated August 2001. In 2007, the MRS started providing assistance at the burials at the MSVC with nine units participating. In 2008, they added another four units. In 2009, they had three more units, bringing the number to 16. Then in 2010 two more units volunteered for a total of 18 units. Some of the units provide services on more then one day per month. Each unit is now receiving a stipend of $50 per burial to help offset the transportation costs.