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Just beyond 2,584 American flags marking the graves of veterans at Sunset Hills Cemetery, Len Albright reminded a crowd of hundreds in Bozeman what Memorial Day is truly about.

The day isn’t about fun and recreation with barbecues, blockbuster movie openings and mattress sales — it’s about remembrance and reflection, Albright said.

“The day is about those who have always known that there is no sale price for freedom,” he said. “It is about those who were more than willing to discount their own lives for the ultimate benefit to others.”

Albright, who is the commander of American Legion Gallatin Post 14, helped organize Monday’s Memorial Day parade and ceremony in Bozeman.

Permits for the parade were approved just two weeks before Memorial Day, so organizers rushed to plan the events, according to Albright. Floats and vehicles from more than 50 groups, military posts and departments cruised down Main Street from N. 7th Avenue to Wallace Avenue. It was the most entries Albright has ever seen to the annual event, he said.

A police officer on a motorcycle led the parade, followed by an American Legion Post 14 color guard and Gold Star families. More Post 14 members, American Legion’s Auxiliary Gallatin Unit 14, Sons of the Legion and a whole line-up of posts, military vehicles and various participants then made their way through the downtown area.

Thousands of onlookers lined Main Street. They cheered and waved American flags while children rushed to pick up candy. People honked and waved from vehicles in the procession. Horses plodded alongside the floats.

An hour after the parade’s end, hundreds of people joined Gallatin Post 14 members at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Sunset Hills Cemetery. Within the crowd were 15 gold star family members from across Montana, Albright said.

Usually, about 80 gold star family members attend Bozeman’s Memorial Day services, but this year fewer could make it because of the short notice, according to Albright.

The gold star title is reserved for the family members of those who have died while serving in the armed forces.

Montana’s Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office Chaplain Warren Hiebert and American Legion Auxiliary Gallatin Unit 14 representative Terry Kemp all shared words at Monday’s ceremony.

Four military planes flown by local pilots crossed south to north and east to west over the cemetery. Daines paused his remarks twice during the flyovers.

Memorial Day Service

Sen. Steve Daines speaks at a Memorial Day service on May 31, 2021, at the Vietnam War Memorial in the Sunset Hills Cemetery.

“We would not be having this day of remembrance in this beautiful place, we would not be enjoying the vast freedoms that are unique to America if it weren’t for the heroes standing in front of us, and the countless others who have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Daines said.

Daines’ upbringing in a military family showed him the importance of service, and those values have guided his efforts in the United States Senate, he said. One of his top priorities is making sure the nation’s servicemen and women and their loved ones have access to care and services.

“This day we remember the cost of freedom, and this day we remember the cost of precious lives — our fathers, mothers, sons and daughters,” Hiebert said. “This day we remember the hurt and the pain of the families that kissed their loved ones as they went off to war, hoping and praying that they would hold them once again.”

Monday's parade was a major shift from last year’s silent march along Main Street. Last May, the city of Bozeman issued an order suspending all parade permits because of the pandemic.

The decision canceled Bozeman’s Memorial Day parade, but it didn’t stop American Legion Gallatin Post 14 from honoring fallen servicemen and women. Six veterans wearing their branch uniforms walked down the sidewalks of Main Street, and others ended up joining them.

“We still honored our men and women that served that didn’t make it home,” Albright said. “We did it anyway.”

Albright said volunteers can join the American Legion at 9 a.m. Tuesday to help pick up flags from the events downtown.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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