Memorial Day services held at grave of Norris Dean Kay

VFW 4345 member Bernie Bestgen at the plays “Taps” to close the Memorial Day ceremony, as George Shelley salutes. The event took place at the Masonic Cemetery.

VFW 4345 member Bernie Bestgen at the plays “Taps” to close the Memorial Day ceremony, as George Shelley salutes. The event took place at the Masonic Cemetery. Photo by David Wilson.

The grave of Norris Dean Kay in Masonic Cemetery was selected to represent those honored for the 2014 Memorial Day Service. In addition to family members, participants included members of the California Veterans of Foreign War Post 4345, California Masonic Lodge 183, VFW Auxiliary 4345 and Prince of Peace Commandry 29 of Knights Templar, Jefferson City. The Centertown American Legion Post 531 and VFW Post 1003, Jefferson City, were represented.

Following a welcome by James Dearing, Worshipful Master, California Masonic Lodge 183, John Kay, son of the honored veteran, spoke of his father’s service to the country. Norris Dean Kay, born in 1926 in Moniteau County, served three years in the United States Merchant Marine on the S.S. Royal Arrow. The ship was a gasoline tanker built in 1916. It was slow, with a maximum speed of 13 knots - when empty. As a result, it was a solitary sailing ship too slow for convoy travel. But it was well armed and carried a gun crew of 25 men.

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At the Memorial Day ceremony at the Masonic Cemetery, VFW member Bernie Bestgen tolls the bell for each veteran and Mason who died during the past year.

Kay went back to school when he left the Merchant Marine, graduating with honors from Jefferson City Junior College. He died in 1966, decades before members of the Merchant Marine were given veteran status. There was a one out of 26 casualty rate of those in the Merchant Marines.

He married Edwina Lee, graduate of Southwest State teachers College. At the time of the marriage, Edwina was a teacher in the Sedalia school system. They had two sons, John, who went on to earn a law degree and serve several terms as prosecutor, and Larry, who joined the Missouri National Guard, recently retiring with the rank of general.

The event speaker, Robyn Eshenbrenner, Jamestown High School VFW Scholarship winner, presented her essay, “If Freedom is Never Free, What is the Cost?” She spoke of her family members who served in the United States military beginning in 1776, on both sides during the U.S. Civil War, and several in later wars and military actions. One made the ultimate sacrifice.

Eschenbrenner said that keeping the country free was the driving force behind all of those who served and that those who enjoy the freedom should pay honor to those who “have given the ultimate sacrifice.” She then quoted Elmer Davis, Director of the United States Office of War Information during World War II, who said, “The nation will remain the land of the free as long as it is the home of the brave.”

Following the ceremony, members of Prince of Peace Commandry of Knights Templar, Jefferson City, and the California Masonic Lodge met at the Masonic Cemetery for a short service to honor Samuel Owens. Born in 1835, he died in 1882, and is credited with revitalizing the California Masonic Lodge in the 1870s after it had shut down for awhile in the 1860s. He also was a commander of the Prince of Peace Commandry 29, Jefferson City. The historic figure, at times appearing larger than life, managed to cram a lot of activity into his 47 years. He was a Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri in 1872, Grand High Priest of the Royal Arch Masons in 1881 as well as a member of the Scottish Rite Masons and Emminent Commander of Prince of Peace Commandry 29 of the Knights Templar, Jefferson City, in 1878.

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