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Freedom Riders honor Catholic
soldier buried in Calvary Cemetery

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

For the first time ever, members of the Sioux City American Legion’s Post 1981 Freedom Riders gathered at Calvary Cemetery to hold a service for the namesake of Monahan Post 64.

“But it won’t be the last time,” stressed Legion member Fred Reese. “This will be an annual event.”
The motorcyclists gathered May 26 first at the post’s headquarters on Geneva Street in Sioux City and, with flags flowing in the slight drizzle of rain, rode the three miles to Calvary Cemetery.

They idled into the cemetery as the rain subsided and the sun tried to peek its way through the overcast sky.

They parked at the cemetery’s mausoleum and reverently walked up the hill to the simple white marker indicating the final resting place for the first soldier to die in World War I – Edward H. Monahan Jr., a member of Cathedral of the Epiphany, Sioux City.

The Riders, outfitted in their uniforms of white shirts, black vests, pants and berets, stood at parade rest while Legionnaire Dave Nelson brought them to attention with a salute and an “at ease.”

“Lord, we are here today to celebrate the life of our namesake and all the other veterans whose names may be known or lost to us,” Nelson said. “Take care of those who still serve our country. We ask this all in your name. Amen.”

As the men solemnly looked at the gravesite of the 22-year-old, young enough to be a son or even a grandson, they reflected on the casualties of war.

“It’s hard to believe he was the first from Sioux City to die,” Reese mused, as others nodded. “He paved the way for us.”

“My dad was there in 1918 in France,” Floyd Leaver noted. Monahan died in a French field hospital of injuries sustained in a battle with the Germans. “I have my dad’s hard hat and dog tags.”

“They put him in a good place,” Reese added, referring to the hillside with a large shade tree a stone’s throw away.

“I can remember standing at cemeteries with my dad and I thought he was the old one,” Chuck Swan said. “Now, here we stand and we are the old ones.”

The Riders are a recently-established group within the Sioux City American Legion posts. They are a chapter of the national American Legion Riders (ALR).

The national ALR was formed to participate in parades and other ceremonies that are in keeping with the aims and purposes of the American Legion, to promote motorcycle safety programs and to provide a social atmosphere for American Legion members. The ALR is not a motorcycle club; it is family-oriented, just as is its parent organization, the American Legion.

According to ALR regulations, you have to belong to the American Legion (serving at least one day of active duty) or the Sons of the American Legion (dad or grandfather served in the military) or the American Legion Auxiliary (wife or daughter) to be a Legion Rider.

And you must own a motorcycle of at least 350cc displacement, complete with a valid driver's license. If your spouse is in the ALR, you're automatically eligible to join, as well.

“No, not everyone has a Harley,” Nelson chuckled. “I, myself, have a Kawasaki, so we aren’t discriminating.”
Other changes will be forthcoming for the two Sioux City American Legion posts. Nelson Post 1981 sold its headquarters and Monahan Post 64 has its for sale.

“We needed a better home,” said Nelson, who is no relation to the namesake of Post 1981. “We have to think about the future and handicapped-accessibility as our members get older.”

Also on the horizon is a merger of the two posts into one, creating Monahan-Nelson Post 64.

“We are Post 1981 Riders, but, keep in mind that Post 1981 and Post 64, are one in the same now, hence the name,” Reese explained. “That's why both Edward H. Monahan and Duane M. Nelson are important to all of us now and we plan to have a service at both their gravesites every year.”

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