Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The morning dawned cool and mostly clear on Monday, for the first of 12 Memorial Day ceremonies which began at the Western Montana State Veterans Cemetery, hosted by Susan Campbell Reneau.

The first ceremony of the day has been set aside to call attention to the epidemic of veteran suicide.

A 96-Year-old WWII Veteran Attended the first Memorial Day event

One of the featured guests was 96-year-old World War II veteran Wayne Hiatt, accompanied by his daughter Sonya, who spoke of Wayne’s son and her husband, Joe.

“Wayne is 96 and a half years old, and is just truly a remarkable person,” began Sonya. “He always asks what he can do to help us when we should be doing everything to help him Joe, my husband, and his son returned from a nine-month deployment with the Marines in between Cuba, Ecuador, and Panama, catching drug runners and traffickers in late 2022, and committed suicide January 9 of 2023.”

The only Montana Congressional Delegation member to send a representative to the ceremony was Senator Jon Tester, Chair of the U.S. Veterans Affairs Committee.

A Representative from Senator Jon Tester Spoke at the Ceremony

“On Memorial Day, we come together as a nation to remember and honor those who lost their lives in service to this country,” he began. “We stand on the shoulders of these fallen heroes. We would not be where we are today without the sacrifices made by them and their families. Our state has a long and proud history of service in the armed forces, and we understand better than most that freedom is never free.”

Anton Johnson heads up the Missoula Vet Center, and speaks often in public, reaching out to veterans who may be considering suicide.

New clinic to specialize in exams for veterans’ disability benefits

READ MORE: clinic to specialize in exams for veterans’ disability benefits

Vet Center Representative Anton Johnson spoke about Veteran Suicides

“It's an honor to be here today,” said Johnson. “I too have lost many fellow veterans to suicide, and it doesn't get any easier. That's why I've made it my mission to be here and to be at every event to find those veterans. If you know of a veteran who's struggling, please send them my way. We're very accessible in our office. We're on Brooks Street right by the Rose (Memorial) Park. So we're away from the big VA but we're still a VA entity. So if you think you have a veteran in mind or you are a veteran yourself who is struggling, please come and see me.”

Following the traditional playing of Taps, Campbell Reneau began the journey to the second of 12 ceremonies of the day.

A highlight at the 11:30 a.m. ceremony was having the 'Miss Montana' aircraft circle the venue three times to honor those who gave their lives in service of their country.

Missoula’s 12 Memorial Day ceremonies are reportedly the most by any community in the United States.

What Grows Well in a Montana Garden?

Montana gardeners and beginners alike, have so many options when it comes to growing a decent garden in our difficult climate.

Gallery Credit: mwolfe

More From Newstalk KGVO 1290 AM & 98.3 FM