McCOOK — As the American flag unfurled amid the strong breeze Saturday in this town’s modest cemetery, Vincent Keller asked the fellow veteran helping him raise it a single question:

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

With a population around 100, this community, about 26 miles northwest of Edinburg, worked to honor the decorated 89-year-old World War II Army veteran and more than 60 other men and women from the community who served in World War I through today.

“It just makes me cry,” Keller said of the ceremony. “I feel so happy.”

McCook natives Joyce Skloss said she and her cousin Walter Lyssy, a Vietnam veteran, recently realized the Immaculate Conception cemetery was without a flag pole, so they planned to install one in honor of 13 veterans buried there. She said the project mushroomed into a dedication ceremony recognizing the sacrifices of all the town’s servicemen and women.

The community gathered names for a working list of those enlisted in the military from residents of the ranching and farming town for a roll call. 

“I feel great,” Keller said after the ceremony. “We had a lot of boys from here and we all came back.”

Among the different generations of McCook veterans, many spread among families, the town has lost a single soldier — Dustin Sekula, for whom the Edinburg library is named. The Marine, whose family has a farm in McCook, died April 2004 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. Joyce Skloss said one family sent all six of their sons to Vietnam.

The pool of veterans from World War II continues to shrink as they age, but McCook celebrated the service of three veterans still alive from the war.

Conrad Prukop, a World War II Marine veteran, sat beside Keller and Otto Wagner Sr., who served in the Navy, at the base of the flag pole.

“It’s wonderful because McCook is blessed with all these service people,” 91-year-old Prukop said, noting while some were wounded, with the exception of Sekula, none were killed in action.

The ceremony began with a mass at the Immaculate Conception church, where Rev. Rene Angel blessed veterans, many wearing hats identifying their service in Vietnam, and Keller’s daughter, Susan Keller Skloss, sang “America the Beautiful.”

When her grandfather approached the altar carrying the U.S. flag, the one he would later raise in the cemetery, 28-year-old Heather Keller Gibke became emotional.

“I’ve grown up listening to his war stories from WWII,” she said, remarking on his continued to dedication to the country. “The war was such a big part of him and his life and what he taught us about freedom.”

Keller Skloss said McCook, founded by Polish immigrants, is grateful for the sacrifice made by its soldiers.

Once the flag stood tall in McCook’s cemetery, Keller Skloss sang the National Anthem, which was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

As Prukop made his way out of the ceremony, he made one more remark about his time serving his country.

“We just did what we were asked to do.” 

 

Jacqueline Armendariz covers law enforcement, courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at jarmendariz@themonitor.com, (956) 683-4434 or on Twitter, @jarmendariz.