Last weekend fourteen SKOAC paddlers were at Little Sand Bay, preparing to launch for a 'first crossing' trip with the students that took our 'Intro to Lake Superior Kayaking' course in the Twin Cities two weeks prior. Ours was a very minor event at Little Sand Bay on that last Saturday in June however. Fleets of kayaks are staging on the beach all the time. This Saturday visitors saw something that has probably never been seen there before or will be seen again; a US Marine Corp Color Guard in dress blues practicing in the knee deep grass on the beach.
On Saturday Lance Corporal Merlin Raye Allen was laid to rest with full military honors on York Island. The story in the Ashland Daily Press is here and a background story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is here. Lance Corporal Allen was killed almost 46 years ago to the day when a RPG round hit the Chinook helicopter in which he was riding. His remains were recovered and identified by a joint Vietnamese-US team in early 2012. Cpl. Allens parents owned York Island at the time, predating the establishment of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore, and are buried on the island. Their son joined them last Saturday. Several veterans organizations as well as the Patriot Guard motorcycle group were at Little Sand Bay for the ceremony. After the service the funeral group was transported to York Island in another veteran of US service, the Outer Island. This barge, used for dredging and other tasks by the Park Service, participated in the invasion of southern France in 1944 as a LST, Landing Ship Tank. It seemed fitting that it landed Cpl Allen on York Island at his final resting place.
We did not want to intrude in the ceremony, felt it would not be proper since we were only at LSB coincidentally. We launched and just about the time we reached Sand Island, three miles away, we heard the volleys from the Marine Color Guard. Shortly after the Outer Island began it's journey to York. One more amazing twist occurred minutes after the final volley. We saw a spectacular ‘sun dog’, a atmospheric phenomenon that most of us had never witnessed before in the summer months. I don't have an answer for how or why but there it was.
Coming just before the 4th of July and the accompanying fireworks and picnics, Lance Corporal Merlin Ray Allen's memorial service served as a reminder that the independence celebrated on Independence Day did not just happen nor it is guaranteed. This year is also the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg which began today in 1863. When I see and hear 'the rockets red glare' in three days,it will have just a little bit deeper meaning for me than it has in past years