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While veterans' groups all around Iowa scaled back or canceled plans for Memorial Day amid the coronavirus pandemic, Vietnam veteran Larry Ritland decided to mark the daywith something big.

Ritland, a38-year member of American Legion Post 307 in his hometown of Roland, observed Memorial Day by cycling 72.9miles througheight central Iowa communities where namesake veteran relatives are buried.

He also marked his upcoming 72nd birthday.

“I wanted to honor my relatives for their military service,” Ritland said.“But, really, I will be honoring all veterans.”

The seven-hour ride began at 6 a.m. Monday in Slater, where Ritland’s cousin, Herb Ritland, is buried.

From Slater, Ritland made stops to honor relatives in Huxley, Ames,McCallsburg, Garden City, Radcliffe, Story City and, finally,Roland at about 1 p.m.

Ritland carried seven U.S. flags with him. At the Roland Cemetery, he placed a flag on each of seven different graves. One of the flags was placed on the grave of his great-great-grandfather Ole Ritland, who, along with his wife, Sarah,and their seven children, arrived in America from Norway in 1855.

Another was placed at the grave of Larry’s great-grandfatherJohn Ritland, who served three-and-a-half years in the Union Army during the Civil War. He and fellow Civil War soldier JonasDuea, also buried in the Roland Cemetery, servedtogetherand survived the Battle of Vicksburg and the Battle of Nashville, among others.

“I can’t imagine what it was like for my great-grandfather,” Ritland said. “In 1855, when he entered the Civil War, he probably couldn’t even speak much English. He was just newly here from Norway and hadn’t had much chance to learn a new language.”

Like most communities around Iowa,Roland and Story City canceled their traditional celebrations for Memorial Day. Both marked the day withmore low-key observances that wouldn't draw as many people.

In Roland, the American Legion'stypical Memorial Day event draws as many as250 participants, said Tommy Chance of the American Legion Post 307. “With the great turnout each year, we would greatly eclipse the current restrictions on the size of an event."

So instead of hosting a large event, Chancesaid his group encouraged family and friends to visit the veterans' memorial at the cemetery in small groupsand using social distancing.

“We do want to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "We also want to make sure anyone visiting the memorial and cemetery to have a pleasant, safe and healthy visit.”

Seeing Memorial Day observances canceled or scaled back is "heartbreaking,” Ritland said.

“Growing up in little Roland, Iowa, attending the Memorial Day Parade is what you did on Memorial Day," he said."The fondest memories in my younger years were watching three of my uncles, along with dozens of other local veterans, march down Main Street every Memorial Day. This could be the first year in 75 years, probably more, my family will not have the chance to honor military members of our family.”

But Ritland knows how to create his own milestone event. In2016, he celebrated turning 68 by riding hisbicycle 68 miles along the Alaska Highway to honor his uncleLloyd Ritland, who helped build the road during World War II.

In 2019, he commemorated the 100th anniversary of the American Legion by cycling 100 miles on his birthday, May 31. He then spent 74 days bicycling across the entire country, from Washington State to Washington, D.C., also as a tribute to the American Legion’s 100th Anniversary. At his side was his support team of one:his wife, Kay.

Monday in Roland, Ritland visited the grave of his uncleEarl Ritland, who served four years in the U.S. Navy just before World War II. Then Ritland honored the service of four uncles who served in World War II: VirgilTwedt, who was killed in action in Europe in 1944; RobertRisdal and Carroll Ritland, who also served in Europe; and Lloyd Ritland, who helped to build the Alaska Highway and served in Okinawa.

Many relatives on his mother’s side served, too, including his uncleLyleFrohof Fort Dodge, who served inWorld War II; his cousin VirginiaMahnof Ankeny, who served during the Cold War;and cousinConradFrohof Anchorage, Alaska, who served during the Vietnam War.

When Ritland arrived at his last bike stop Monday, in Roland, his family was waiting to thank him; he said it was like a small, family reunion.

"I didn't do much. I just decided to take a bike ride in a way to honor the relatives who served before me," Ritland said. "Ifelt proud that Iwas able to serve, as well;there's a tradition of patriotism that still exists within my immediate family."

Ritland said his ride went smoothly, and some Iowans honked their car horns to show their support along the way.

"Itwas a great experience," he said. "It turned out to be a perfect day for a bike ride."


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