Memorial Day has special significance for former Marine Corporal Kyle Kunkee of McCook. He was with U.S. troops in July of 2003 when they marched from Kuwait to Iraq, not stopping for 48 straight hours.
The experience left Kyle with lasting respect for the privileges America enjoys as a free nation. "We take our freedom for granted," he said. "We don't appreciate what we have until we see what oppressed people are going through."
Because of his deep love for freedom and the Marines, Kunkee has been chosen as the Memorial Day speaker in McCook for the second straight year.
The Memorial ceremony will be Monday morning near the Veterans Memorial at Memorial Park Cemetery. "The program will begin at 10 a.m.," said Dan Stramel of the American Legion. "We encourage you to be there on time because the program is brief -- 20 to 30 minutes at the most." The program will feature opening remarks by Stramel, also a former Marine, the speech by Kunkee and a veterans' firing squad and Taps by Rebecca Gordine.
In his speech, Kyle will recall the Memorial Day observations of his commander in Iraq.
"He said there were three kinds of people who observed Memorial Day," Kunkee said. "First, there are the ones he called 'The Barbecue Crew,' by which he meant those people who used the observance to grill hamburgers and steaks and head for the lake or do other leisure activities."
Next, Kunkee said the commander spoke of "The Decorators," who observe Memorial Day as a ritual. And, then finally, the commander said, "There are 'Those Who Are All Too Knowing,' having suffered the ultimate sacrifice when their loved ones perish while serving their country."
McCook knows of that agony, Kyle said, because of the death in Iraq of Sgt. Randy Matheny. "We lost one of our own," Kyle said. "It brought the War on Terror home to us."
Kyle, the son of Delbert and Marilyn Kunkee of McCook, entered the Marines' Delayed Entry Program the day after his final football game for the McCook Bison. He entered the service Aug. 21, 2000, and completed his four-year commitment in 2004.
Now, he is making plans to reenlist. "I'm getting my ducks in a row," he said. "I want to be a Marine. I want to serve my country and fight for freedom."