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Honoring Mendon veterans: Michael Buist’s dream becomes real

November 6th, 2010 Posted in Arts and Life

Story and photos by Storee Powell

MENDON–Michael Buist was a machine gunner in the Vietnam War for the Marine Corps. Now he lives in the small town of Mendon, a combat veteran working to keep alive the memory of those who’ve served in the armed forces.

“I witnessed those people make the supreme sacrifice and saw how the people of a third world country are treated by their governments. We don’t appreciate the freedom we have,” Buist said. “If we don’t like what is going on, instead of complaining, if enough people get together, we can change it.”

Buist took his own advice and helped put together the Mendon Veteran’s Committee, which he heads; it includes 91-year-old WWII veteran Rulon Ladle. The committee is overseen by city council members Brett Fonnesbeck and Jason Wooden, who are in charge of the Mendon cemetery.

The goal of the committee, Buist said, is to put up a memorial consisting of three limestone rocks which will be engraved with the names of living and deceased veterans native to Mendon. One of the rocks will serve as a base for a flag pole. The rock is coming from a quarry in Ogden Canyon. The memorial was designed by Fonnesbeck, who specializes in landscaping. The memorial will be put in the cemetery, by the Pioneer Park, in spring of 2011 Michael said.

“My brother is the mayor so that is how I got involved. Several communities have been putting up memorials in Cache Valley, like Millville and Nibley, so we wanted to follow suit,” Buist said.

Brother to Michael is Mendon Mayor Ed Buist, who said that while he is certainly supportive of the effort to put in a Mendon veterans’ memorial, as mayor and a veteran’s brother, the idea had to be ultimately voted on and passed by the City Council.

“As a small town, we don’t have a lot of revenue, so when the committee approached us, we told them we support it, but we can’t do much financially,” the mayor said.

However, he added that Mendon did donate land at the cemetery as a site for the memorial. The committee is under “the city’s umbrella,” as are other groups like the historical society, which has its own fund that they can put money in and it will be set aside by the city.

The memorial will cost about $20,000, Michael Buist said, with the rocks alone costing $12,000. So far $10,000 has been raised. The rocks have been ordered and will be engraved as soon as the committee finishes compiling the names of veterans. The rest of the funds will cover landscaping, the cement pad and other related expenses.

Ed Buist said that money has been raised by the committee going door-to-door in Mendon asking for donations, as well as by a dinner. The $50-a-plate dinner was in August, and was originally planned to be in the town reception area at Mendon Station. The response by those wanting to attend the dinner was so large, however, the dinner site had to be moved to a church, he said.

“I don’t worry about getting the rest of the funds for it because the committee are go-getters,” Ed said.

The city is not contributing any money, Ed said, the money and labor is being volunteered by the community. He also said local Boy Scouts will provide labor for creating the memorial site.

“I have a soft place in my heart for veterans, so from a personal standpoint, this decision was easy,” the mayor said. “From the standpoint of the city, I can speak for 99 percent of the town, in saying that these veterans need to be honored. I appreciate personally what they’ve done, and I feel confident the majority of our citizens feel that way. I know this because of the response Mike got from going door to door.”

The committee will be permanent so that the memorial can be kept up, including adding names of new veterans to the rocks. Ed said the committee plans to have a yearly dinner to raise funds for the up-keep of the memorial.

Michael said the living vets’ names will be engraved, and when they pass away, the death date will be added.

“It’s the people of this community who are supporting this effort, so that tells me there is still a spark of patriotism. This community loves it veterans,” Michael said.

Mendon has more than 110 veterans from different periods of time buried in its cemetery. One vet who will be named on the memorial is buried in France because he was killed in combat in WWI, Michael said. Currently, there are close to 60 living vets, including some from WWII.

“Vets have had a great impact on this country, especially WWI and WWII vets, that a lot of people don’t remember,” Michael said. “When we put up these memorials across the country, it isn’t necessarily there to epitomize one person, but the group of people who supported our country, whether in combat, making equipment, or just being a taxpayer and being loyal to our country.”

Michael said the purpose of the memorials is to be thankful for those individuals who are willing to fight for freedom.

“A lot of people like to protest war now, and that’s their privilege, they live in a land free enough they can do that. But the least they can do is be thankful for the individual that is willing to go fight for our freedom,” he said.

Betty Buist, wife of Michael, said, “I believe that one of the main purposes of this memorial is the patriotism of our community.”

Ed said veterans define the word patriotism in his opinion. “Every veteran that I know, I picture them when I think of the word patriot. I think of loyalty and if the chips were down, who would I want at the side of me?”

This is why patriotism is the message that will be engraved on the flag pole rock, Michael said. The phrase that will be on the rock is, “For those who’ve fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.”

For Michael, the flavor of freedom is not something to take for granted. “The idea is that all this blood was spilled for our freedom and then people turn their backs on them.

“So that is why these memorials are important, to not let the spirit of freedom die,” Michael said. “The only way to preserve that freedom is to somehow get involved, whether it is people serving in politics or the military, and above all, voting.”

Michael said he encourages young people to exercise their patriotism by being a good citizen, voting, and by choosing politicians “who will do their best to protect this country.”

An opening ceremony for the unveiling of the memorial will take place around Memorial Day weekend, Ed said. Everyone is welcome, including those not from Mendon. As the event approaches, information will be posted on a blog accessible from the city website, mendoncity.org.

Those who are interested in donating to the memorial can call Michael Buist at 757-0510 or mail contributions to Mendon City Veterans Memorial, P.O. Box 70, Mendon, UT 84325.

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