Tucked between Interstate 494 and the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary sits a small, old parish cemetery. And on this rainy Monday morning, as is traditional on Memorial Day, a bell rang out.

By the time Carl Rudolph, a Vietnam-era veteran, finished his task, the bell, glistening with rainwater, had rung 86 times — once for each U.S. military veteran buried in the cemetery.

Across Minnesota, people gathered in cemeteries to honor and remember those who served in American wars. In Richfield, attendees gathered under gray skies.

Betsy Sullivan and her mother, Mary, sat in the front row, under a red tent. They come yearly. Mary's husband, Bill, who served in the National Guard, is buried near the Virgin Mary statue.

"Because we were the holy people," Mary said with a smirk.

Memorial Day in the U.S. evoked a somber mood, as the nation, ever divided by partisan politics and an upcoming presidential election, breathed with the remembrance of men and women who served in the U.S. military, from wars in Europe to the Middle East, from the Civil War to southeast Asia.

While Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, serves as the unofficial beginning to summer, for many it remains a day of hallowed retreat.

An umbrella-toting crowd gathered at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where Gov. Tim Walz remarked that the rain felt fitting for the somber occasion. About 258,000 veterans and their family members are buried at roughly 190,000 grave sites. Volunteers place a flag on every grave in the days leading up to Memorial Day.

"All of you here made a choice, a choice to spend your holiday with us to honor and remember our veterans," said Andrew Motzko, assistant director of the 436-acre cemetery.

This year's Memorial Day program included keynote speaker Lisa Anderson, deputy comptroller for Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The Buffalo, Minn., native is stationed in Pearl Harbor and works to recover and identify remains of missing service members — sometimes decades after they made the ultimate sacrifice.

Anderson said a 25-member team is in the Normandy region of France searching for three missing airmen whose C-47A aircraft was presumably shot down by German anti-aircraft fire on D-Day. Nearly 81,000 U.S. personnel from World War II to the present day are unaccounted for, she said.

One of their most recent identifications is Pvt. Robert W. Cash, a graduate of Washburn High School and former student at the University of Minnesota. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces at Fort Snelling on May 8, 1941. Cash was captured following the American surrender of the Bataan Peninsula in 1942 and was forced on the 65-mile Bataan Death March.

The camp was liberated in early 1945, but Cash was buried in a common grave with other American prisoners. While identification efforts began in 1947, Cash's remains weren't sent to Anderson's Hawaii laboratory until 2019. Just this last April, Cash was finally identified.

"As we look ahead to the coming year, I hold firm in the belief that, by next Memorial Day, we'll witness a reduction in the number of 'unknown' grave markers and an increase in the number of families finding the answers they rightfully deserve," Anderson said.

In Richfield, an intimate, quieter ceremony unfolded. The parish cemetery harkens back to days when cornfields and hay bales populated Richfield. The church in the first-ring suburb of the Twin Cities sits just east of a Best Buy store. A credit union and apartment complex loom over the parish cemetery.

Joe Novak, who volunteers with the Knights of Columbus, organizes the annual event. Novak didn't serve in the military but got to know veterans by helping them attend Mass in wheelchairs at a veterans home. Through research, he keeps growing the list of veterans in the cemetery, created by a parish couple.

The ceremony opened with an invocation and a Boy Scout troop presenting the colors. Then Novak read the names as Rudolph chimed the bell.

"Benajamin E. Haeg."

"Ferdinand M. Bungert."

"Bernard F. Fritz."

Eighty-six names for the small cemetery. Eighty-six families and their stories. When the names had all been read, a Boy Scout played taps on the trombone.

The cemetery stretches back to the parish's founding by German immigrants in the 1870s. In a far corner, mottled headstones, rounded by the years, carry the names of children with a lamb and a cross.

"Josephine Biott, May 6, 1880, to Sept 9, 1881."

"It really gives you a sense for how tough times were," said Betsy Sullivan, who now serves as the parish's music director.

The cemetery is a window to the past. On Monday, American flags also dotted the base of gray headstones. A number of interred bear the name of the military conflict that they served in.

"World War II."


Novak estimates veterans of the Spanish-American War, possibly even the Civil War, are buried in the small cemetery.

After the ceremony, attendees munched on cookies and sipped coffee in the church entryway.

Dick DeGonda recalled that his brothers, from Le Center, Minn., both served in WWII. By pure chance, the brothers bumped into each other on an island in the Pacific.

"It made the Le Center paper," Dick's wife, Mary, said.

Across the room, two sisters and a cousin spoke about their father's time in liberated France.

Susan Poquette Keenan said her father walked under the Eiffel Tower.

"Only once did we see him cry," said Keenan, describing when their father saw a dead U.S. serviceman clutching the wheel of an American tank.

When they returned to the U.S., many of the veterans bought homes in Richfield and other suburbs on the GI Bill. The postwar boom would soon engulf the region's farmland.

But not the church. And not the cemetery, where Keenan's father is buried.

So, for another Memorial Day, while rain fell, families under umbrellas and carrying flowers walked through the grassy aisles of the small burial ground, under the buzz of interstate traffic.

Correction: Previous versions of this story misspelled the name of veteran Ferdinand M. Bungert.