During its inaugural Memorial Day service, the Veterans Memorial Park of Blaine honored those who have died serving in the U.S. armed forces.
More than 150 people attended the service in Tom Ryan Park May 31, including a few dozen veterans and current service members. Gold Star families — the immediate families of people who died while serving — were recognized during the ceremony. One veteran was specifically recognized by Veterans Memorial Park of Blaine President Steve Guider: 100-year-old U.S. Navy veteran Stan Nelson, of Anoka, who served during World War II and fought on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France.
Retired Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Jon Trost gave the keynote. He said the men and women killed in action “were people who came from all walks of life from all corners of this great land of ours. They were our fathers, our sons, our mothers, our daughters, our friends and our neighbors. They were all ordinary people living ordinary lives, who were asked to make extraordinary sacrifices for the extraordinary times for our country. Their sacrifice spans generations and yet they share a common bond. They all died for a cause much greater than themselves.”
The event included a recitation of the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, and the T-6 Thunder Flight Team did multiple flyovers during the service in restored military planes.
The World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and War on Terror monuments were installed earlier this spring at the Veterans Memorial Park of Blaine. During the Memorial Day service, the honor guard from Sgt. John Rice VFW Post 6316 handed out white carnations to those in the audience who had a family member die in combat, as well as those who had a family member who was a veteran and later died. Audience members left the white carnations at the war memorial representing where their loved one served.
The ceremony also honored U.S. Navy Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Thomas John Valentine, who died at age 37 during a parachuting accident while training Feb. 13, 2009, in Casa Grande, Arizona. Valentine grew up in Ham Lake and was a graduate of Blaine High School.
Valentine graduated from SEAL basic training and advanced courses in November 1990. He was a member of the highly selective Naval Special Warfare Development Group based at Dam Neck Annex in Virginia Beach, which evaluates and develops tactics and tests equipment for Navy and other military special forces.
Valentine was deployed several times in the Middle East and various other locations across the world. He served as an Assault Troop Chief for a Joint Task Force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom April 1-15, 2007, and in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from Oct. 5, 2007, to Jan. 15, 2008.
Valentine was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars with “V” for valor, two Joint Service Commendation Medals and three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medals, among other decorations.
According to his Silver Star citation: Valentine led his assault troop during numerous direct action combat missions in hostile and denied areas against hardened enemy fighters. These operations resulted in the elimination of multiple enemy fighters and the capture of several suspected terrorists. Constantly exposing himself to enemy fire, Senior Chief Petty Officer Valentine calmly led his troop through intense firefights where his quick thinking and inspiring leadership ensured mission success and saved the lives of his teammates. After months of continuous combat, Senior Chief Petty Officer Valentine’s troop eliminated the most senior terrorist leader in a critical region in Iraq, decimated a senior leadership media cell, and eliminated or captured seven other regional emirs. By his bold leadership, undaunted courage, and complete dedication to duty, Senior Chief Petty Officer Valentine reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
“It has been 13 years since we lost Tom,” said Susie Valentine, Thomas Valentine’s sister. “His children, my niece and nephew are now 18 and 21. They are beautiful, intelligent and talented. It’s a testament to their mother Christina. I’m proud of our family and how we’ve navigated through these many years. It has not been easy, and we’ve all taken different paths.”
Thomas Valentine’s widow, Christina; children, John and Meghan Valentine; parents, Jack and Katie Valentine; and brother, Tim Valentine, all attended the Memorial Day service.
Blaine Mayor Tim Sanders read a proclamation declaring it Thomas J. Valentine Day in the city of Blaine. Valentine’s burial flag was also flown at the service.
At the conclusion of the service, the Valentine family unveiled two new marble benches: one in honor of Gold Star Families and the other in honor of Thomas Valentine. The bench in honor of Valentine was made as a surprise to the Valentine family.
The Veterans Memorial Park of Blaine is located on the southern part of Tom Ryan Park, at 10802 Town Square Drive NE, in front of Blaine City Hall. The park currently has seven monuments. The eighth, a monument honoring women in service, is being installed soon. There will eventually be 17 monuments in the park, but only half have been sponsored. To learn more about the park or how to donate to the Veterans Memorial Park of Blaine, visit veteransparkofblaine.org or email Steve Guider at email@example.com.