Iowa communities to celebrate Memorial Day

Veteran decoration days date back to 1866

By: - May 27, 2023 8:00 am

Memorial Day was designated as a national holiday in 1971. (Stock photo via Canva)

For some people, Memorial Day means the start of summer, a long weekend to kick back, relax and enjoy the lake or a steak. For others, it is a time to remember veterans who gave their lives for our country. 

Each soldier, living and dead, means something to their communities, families and fellow service members.

According to, Memorial Day has been recognized in some form since 1866, just after the Civil War. Though relatively informal, Union veterans organized Decoration Day to decorate the graves of the recently buried soldiers. 

In 1868, Decoration Day was more organized and widespread than the original recognitions in 1866, when only 25 cities celebrated.

After World War I, Memorial Day was observed in honor of all those who died in American wars, not just the Civil War as it had mostly been recognized before. Over 150 years after the first Decoration Day, the practice continues and serves as a time to remember the more than 1 million lives lost in military service, as well as the millions of veterans who died after serving. 

American war casualties

People who served in the Civil War:  3.26 million

People who died in the Civil War: 500,000+

People who served in WWI: 4.73 million

People who died in WWI: 116,516

People who served in WWII: 16.11 million

People who died in WWII: 405,399

People who served the Korean War: 5.72 million

People who died in the Korean War: 54,246

People who served in the Vietnam War: 8.74 million 

People who died in the Vietnam War: 90,220

People who served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 8.74 million

People who died in Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 1,948

People who have served post 9/11: 7.2 million

People who have died serving post 9/11: 25,150+

An unknown but certainly significant number of Iowans gave the ultimate sacrifice defending the freedom that Americans celebrate. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, living veterans in Iowa make up about 1% of the over 17 million living veterans in the U.S.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday, officially to be recognized on the last Monday in May. Some say spring was chosen because flowers would be in bloom, and because it was not too close to other holidays. Cemeteries around the nation are decorated with American flags, flowers and other decorations during May, often on graves of those who served and those who did not. 

Around Iowa, communities large and small will recognize veterans who have died. Local VFWs, American Legions or chambers of commerce host events around Iowa. Below are just a few events happening around the state. 

Memorial Day events around Iowa

The following events are scheduled for Monday, May 29, unless otherwise noted.

Iowa Department of Veteran Affairs ceremony, Iowa Veterans Cemetery, 34024 Veterans Memorial Dr., Adel, 8:30 a.m.

Brig. Gen. Stephen E. Osborn, adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard will be the keynote speaker. Osborn enlisted in the Army in 1984 and has been deployed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Kosovo and Iraq. Osborn has received many honors, including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Expert Infantryman’s Badge and Pathfinder Badge.

Gov. Kim Reynolds will also make brief comments. 

The event is free and open to the public and will also be livestreamed from the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs Facebook page.  

Iowa Department of Veteran Affairs ceremony, Iowa Veterans Home, 1301 Summit St., Marshalltown, 10:30 a.m.

Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg will be the keynote speaker at the Iowa Veterans Home, the second ceremony of the day by the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs. 

The event is free and open to the public and will also be livestreamed from the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs Facebook page.  

Iowa Gold Star Military Museum Memorial Day event, Camp Dodge, 7105 NW 70th Ave., Johnston, 5 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The event will have live music, vendors and a free military style breakfast from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

It is free and open to the public, but photo identification for ages 16 and older is required for admittance to Camp Dodge. 

Polk County Gold Star Memorial Marine Corps League firing  

Marine Corps League will do a ceremonial firing at the Gold Star Memorial at East 6th Street and University Avenue, Des Moines, at 9 a.m. followed by a rifle salute at the State Capitol at 10 a.m.

Iowa City Memorial Day Ceremony

Events start at 8:30 a.m. at Park Road Bridge, where soldiers and sailors lost at sea will be honored. 

At 9:30 a.m., Oakland Cemetery will host a memorial program. This event will take place near the cemetery entrance at 1000 Brown St. 

The day’s events continue at 11 a.m. with a ceremony at Memory Gardens Cemetery, 2600 Muscatine Ave.

This is the first time the ceremony will be held since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keokuk Memorial Day Commemoration Ceremony, Keokuk National Cemetery, 1701 J St., Keokuk, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.

The ceremony will be held at Keokuk National Cemetery, a cemetery originating from the Civil War. The cemetery has over 6,000 interments and is a nationally registered historic place.

Memorial Day Tribute Ceremony, Cedar Memorial, 4200 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids, 11 a.m.

Mark Angotti, Cedar Rapids native and Air Force veteran is the featured speaker. 

Angotti serves on the board of SEAL Family Legacy as the mission growth and relations officer and travels around the country speaking about and sharing his passion for the SEAL Family Legacy’s mission.

The event will include patriotic music, rifle volley and taps. It will be livestreamed on

Waterloo Veterans Memorial Day parade, downtown Waterloo, 10 a.m.

Ames Memorial Day Parade and Program, Ames City Hall, 10:30 a.m.

A parade will start at 10:30 a.m. from City Hall and will end at the Ames Municipal Cemetery where there will be a ceremony at 11 a.m.

Lt. Col. Dan Runyon, retired from the Army, will be the featured speaker. Runyon enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1989. During his 33 years of service, he served in many capacities, including a deployment to Afghanistan in 2007, and serving 15 years in the National Guard Bureau Active Guard Reserve program. 

Runyon earned a Bronze Star, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, an Afghanistan Campaign Medal and other honors.

Ames Mayor John Haila and American Legion Post #37 Commander Jay Sisco will give opening comments. 

The event will also have music from the Ames Municipal Band and singer Jim DeHoet. Colors will be presented by a color guard from the Des Moines Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol. 

The event will be available on the Ames Patriotic Council Facebook

Memorial Day Service of Remembrance, Resthaven Cemetery, 801 19th St., West Des Moines, 11 a.m.

This will be the 93rd annual service, honoring men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. Capt. Daniel J. Gannon will be the keynote speaker.

The event will be held outside and will feature music by the Greater Des Moines Community Band and a wall of flags by the Patriot Guard Riders of Iowa. 

Colors will be presented by American Legion Hispanic Post #731, West Des Moines VFW #8879 and Boy Scouts Troop #280.

Historian Russ Gifford discusses “How Memorial Day Began,” Betty Strong Encounter Center, 900 Larsen Park Road, Sioux City, 2 p.m.

This event takes place on Sunday, May 28, the day before Memorial Day. 

Admission is free with a reception after the discussion. Russ Gifford, a local historian, will discuss the story of growth, change, compassion and difficulty. 

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Jay Waagmeester
Jay Waagmeester

Jay is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch intern. Jay is based in Ames and is currently a senior majoring in journalism and marketing at Iowa State University. He has interned at New Century Press and contributed to the Iowa State Daily.