Fly the Flag: North Dakota County honors veterans
for Tri-State Livestock News
Veterans Memorial Park Honors Servicemen and Women
“Oh, say does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Francis Scott Key
In Watford City, North Dakota, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.” McKenzie County is home to part of the Badlands National Park where Teddy Roosevelt once rode, home to oil field workers, farmers and ranchers, cowboys and cattle. Those folks who make a living on the grassy hills have a strong pride in their country deeply rooted in their hearts. Many, past and present, have served in our country’s military; some have given the ultimate sacrifice.
Land was donated for the Veterans Memorial Park in 1956. At one point, over one hundred flag poles made of oilfield pipe stood in the park with the names of several veterans inscribed on each pole. Each year on Memorial Day, veterans and family members would gather to raise flags, have a Memorial Day service, and then reverently take down and fold the flags when the day was over.
Old Glory flew high in all her glory, swelling hearts with pride for all she represented.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration of Independence
As time passed, nothing much was done with the park for many years. McKenzie County Veterans Services Officer Jerry Samuelson said people thought he was crazy when he got people together six years ago to start planning renovations to give the park a new look. The dream grew even bigger than he imagined.
“I started on a napkin,” he laughed. “My original plan involved a budget of $700,000; we are now up to $3.1 million dollars.”
Twelve granite monuments stand in an oval with over two thousand, two hundred veterans’ names, all from McKenzie County North Dakota, inscribed on them. Official military photos supplied by the National Archives in Washington, D.C. were engraved on the monuments representing each decade over the last 100 plus years and give a glimpse into the lives of those who served.
Samuelson said that Carol Kieson, the McKenzie County Superintendent of Schools helped immensely with this project by compiling all the veterans’ names which are listed on the granite monuments.
“We have two men who served from 1890-1900; this era is represented by a picture of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders,” Samuelson said. “When you see a picture of men in the rice paddies of Viet Nam you know you are seeing something they really experienced.”
To each of these men and women, the stars and stripes and the freedom she flew for meant more than life itself. Thirty-three men who were killed in action, who honored the flag and our Nation’s freedom with their lifeblood, are named on the monument.
“When we honor our flag we honor what we stand for as a Nation — freedom, equality, justice, and hope.” Ronald Reagan
Samuelson said the over eight hundred of the veterans named on the memorial stones served during World War II.
Most came home, but some did not.
Young Richard Stanton Sherven was one who did not come home. A Navy man aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, he was in Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. He died during the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and lies forever beneath the waters with his ship. He and his family paid a high price for the flag he followed and the freedom he died to preserve.
“We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.” —General George C. Marshall, May 1942
This spring, thanks to the COVID pandemic, the community was not able to have a public Memorial Day ceremony. It was not the first pandemic to cause a disruption, though.
“There was a pandemic during World War I,” Samuelson said. “Twenty-one men named on the monument died in basic training of the Spanish Flu and never made it to fight.”
A special, private flag raising did happen, in spite of COVID. The family of Lynn Linseth, who passed away in February of 2020, honored his memory by the donation of two new flags for the oval area of the memorial.
It was a fitting gift.
“’Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Francis Scott Key
James Linseth, the last surviving member of his generation, said that six Linseth brothers in total served in the Armed Forces. Sons of pioneer parents Severin and Gudrun Linseth, who homesteaded southeast of Watford City in 1915, they were raised on the family ranch near Croff.
“Three of us served in the Army and three in the Marines,” he said. “We had some friendly banter back and forth over that! Two served in World War II, two in the Korean War, and brother Lynn and myself also served.”
Phillip, the oldest brother, served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps as a radio operator in New Guinea during World War II.
“He spent roughly two years in the jungle, starting in ’42 or ’43,” Mr. Linseth said. “He talked about how hot and miserable the climate was there. He was in a very remote area and would intercept Japanese messages and listen in on what they were talking about. His unit supported many battles in the South Pacific.”
Daniel, who went by his middle name, Omar, among his family, served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. While in Boot Camp in San Diego, an airplane came off the runway and crashed into his barracks.
This accident broke both of Omar’s legs. He was offered an Honorable Discharge but chose to stay and fight for his country and the freedom of others around the world. After completing Infantry Training at Camp Pendleton he shipped with the 4th Marine Division to the Pacific theatre. He was part of six amphibious landings on islands in the Pacific, most notably the battle for Iwo Jima.
“The 4th Division landed on the south end of the island, the 5th Division was on the north end,” Mr. Linseth said. “The 5th Division raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. But he was there. They suffered devastating losses in that battle. We were very fortunate that he came back at all.”
Paul Linseth was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Already married at the time, he served in radio communications stateside, mostly at Ft. Hood in Texas. Jerry Linseth enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after his second year of college at Dickinson State.
“Jerry was on an aircraft carrier off the coast of Korea,” Mr. Linseth said. “They launched fighter planes off his ship. He was on the machine gun turrets. He served for two years and then they let him out to go back to college.
Lynn Linseth served as a member of the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. He also served as a bodyguard to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and was chosen to be the personal escort to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, during her visit to the United States in the late ‘50s.
James Linseth enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1956, serving in occupied Japan, Korea and Lebanon, and manning anti-aircraft missile defenses in California.
“I joined because I looked up to my older brothers so much,” he said. “They set an example to be proud of.”
“This flag, which we honor and under which we serve, is the emblem of our unity, our power, our thought and purpose as a nation. It has no other character than that which we give it from generation to generation. The choices are ours. It floats in majestic silence above the hosts that execute those choices, whether in peace or in war. And yet, though silent, it speaks to us — speaks to us of the past, of the men and women who went before us, and of the records they wrote upon it.” President Woodrow Wilson, 1917
“My dad was so patriotic,” recalled Lynn’s daughter Billie Morken. “He loved his country and he loved the flag. His mother came from Norway at the age of fourteen as an indentured servant, so he knew and appreciated the freedom we have. He never talked about himself. He did it for his country and for the freedom we cherish.
“Whenever my dad saw a flag that was tattered, he would take it down and replace it with a new one no matter whose it was. He never missed a flag raising so we felt he needed a flag at the memorial.”
“These two flags are huge: six feet by ten feet,” Samuelson said. “Several family members were there to lower the old flags and raise the new ones in honor of Lynn.”
Besides these two large flags, thirty others fly proudly nearby at the Veterans Memorial Park.
“We have unique flag poles with a light system built into the pole,” Samuelson said. “The designers were from the Netherlands. They are beautiful to see at night. We will be putting in another twenty for a total of fifty flags.”
“Let us never forget that in honoring our flag, we honor the American men and women who have courageously fought and died for it over the last two hundred years, patriots who set an ideal above any consideration of self. Our flag flies free today because of their sacrifice.” Ronald Reagan
“My dad was so strong, so loving, and so patriotic,” Morken said. “He loved to see the flag. Now that he’s gone when I see the flag it brings me strength and I feel he is near.”
Off with your hat as the flag goes by!
—And let the heart have its say;
You’re man enough for a tear in your eye
—That you will not wipe away.
You’re man enough for a thrill that goes
—To your very finger-tips—
Ay! the lump just then in your throat that rose
—Spoke more than your parted lips.
Lift up the boy on your shoulder high,
—And show him the faded shred;
Those stripes would be red as the sunset sky
—If death could have dyed them red.
Off with your hat as the flag goes by!
—Uncover the youngster’s head;
Teach him to hold it holy and high
—For the sake of its sacred dead.
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