CASCADE, Iowa - Hundreds of family members, friends, veterans and complete strangers gathered near downtown Cascade Saturday afternoon to say goodbye to a 25-year-old U.S. Army Sergeant killed while fighting in Afghanistan last month. Sgt. Michael Ristau, a Cascade native, died after the vehicle he was riding in hit an improvised explosive device (IED) on July 13.
"This is why you live in a community like this," said James Knepper of Cascade, who attended the ceremony, but did not know Ristau. "Whether people knew him or not, whether he lived here or not, it's just everyone comes out to support him."
Ristau was originally from Rockford, IL, but came to know Cascade as a second home after his parents moved to the area nearly a decade ago. Last month his funeral was held in Washington state, home to both his military base and some family.
Dozens of veterans from all across Iowa and America attended the memorial service. Members of the Patriot Guard also took part in the ceremony.
"Members from other legion posts came out to join us today," said Pat Hentges, past commander of the American Legion in Cascade. "The Dyersville legion post, the Dubuque legion post, and I'm probably missing a couple."
Ristau is survived by his wife and two children, who do not live in Cascade. His parents, Randy and Suzanne both attended the ceremony from the front row. Suzanne was overcome by tears after being presented a flag by members of the American Legion.
The service lasted about a half-hour. It was the first such event held at the new All Veterans Memorial in Cascade. The memorial honors hundreds of veterans with ties to the Cascade area.
"This is a special place for a special ceremony," said Hentges. "Especially today."
Later this year Ristau's name will be added to the wall. Ristau will be one of the few veterans with a star next to his name, indicating his death came while in action.