West Bend’s Memorial Day ceremony will have a huge impact on neighbors in the community as Elizabeth (Liz) Kryst has stepped forward as the guest speaker.
Liz is the mother of Kevin Kryst, a 1997 West Bend West High School graduate who was a Captain in the Marines when he was killed in Iraq on Dec. 18, 2006.
“I’ve done speeches before at the Veterans Administration,” Liz said. “I thought certainly I’ll bring a different perspective.”
Sitting at her kitchen table at the family home on Seventh Avenue, Liz did not mince words when she said the focus of her presentation will be on “Memorial Day for a parent.”
“It sucks,” she said. “If he had died or been hit by a bus, any other place other than the military it would have drifted off into the sunset, but every year I have this reminder.”
A gold star banner hangs in the front window of the Kryst home. Photos of the family’s six children are scattered throughout the first floor.
Liz, 64, is blunt in her conversation. “It’s almost been 10 years and I still can’t listen to Taps,” she said.
“After a couple years it got too hard to be sad. You just have to turn everything around and you just have to keep moving forward because I’ve seen other people fall back and dig deep holes.”
Photo provided by Brad Kryst,
Living in West Bend since 1993, Kevin Kryst was first deployed to Iraq in 2004.
Just a couple weeks into his second deployment as a Marine helicopter pilot was when Kevin Kryst died from injuries due to being hit by a fragment of a mortar.
“He died while protecting his Marines,” said Liz. “Kevin was totally dedicated to the Marines.”
A crucifix hangs on the wall behind Liz. She said she leaned heavy into her faith while dealing with the death of her oldest son and well after.
“If I didn’t have the kind of faith I have I probably wouldn’t have gotten this far,” she said. “Some people cope differently but the ones that cope the best are the ones with faith.”
Captain Kryst was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in July 2007.
The U.S. flag, presented to the family, rests on a shelf behind a glass case in a cabinet in the living room.
Three of six of the Kryst children are or were Marines. ‘That’s a very unique perspective from every point of view,” said Liz. “I don’t expect people to really understand but I want to get across that people should not just remember those who have died but also have respect for the families left behind to pick up the pieces.”
An American Gold Star mother, Liz will make her presentation on Memorial Day dressed in a white uniform.
Part of her speech, she said, will include history on the organization that was started after World War I by a woman in Washington who was grieving the loss of her son.
There are 27 women in Wisconsin that are officially American Gold Star mothers including Virginia ‘Belle’ Wichlacz of West Bend; she’s the stepmother of Marine Lance Cpl. Travis Wichlacz, 22, who was killed in action Feb. 5, 2005 while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Liz Kryst said as a rule, she will not ride in the Memorial Day parade.
W.B. Memorial Day details
The Memorial Day parade in West Bend will step off at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, May 30 and head north from South Main Street and Oak Street to Hickory Street and back down Sixth Avenue to Poplar Street. A ceremony will follow in the old Courthouse Square. That program begins at 11 a.m. and will feature World War II veteran Allan Kieckhafer as master of ceremonies. Other tributes will include a tribute to the American flag, Preamble of the Constitution, Gettysburg Address, a reading of the poem “In Flanders Field” and performances by the West Bend High School Band and the River City Irregulars. In case of inclement weather the ceremony will move into the second floor chambers at the Old County Courthouse.