Larry Ritland, a Vietnam veteran and 38-year member of American Legion Post 307 in Roland, will honor veterans this Memorial Day in a unique way — by taking a 75-mile bicycle ride to area cemeteries.

After learning of so many Memorial Day services being canceled, including the one in his hometown, Ritland decided to incorporate the Memorial Day observance into his 72nd birthday ride. He plans to honor his namesake veteran relatives by cycling through eight central Iowa communities.

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

The ride will cover approximately 75 miles, starting in Slater at 6 a.m. where Larry Ritland’s cousin, Herb Ritland, is buried.

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

Ritland will begin the ride carrying seven U.S. flags. At the Roland Cemetery, he will place a flag on seven different graves. A flag will be placed on the grave of his great-great-grandfather Ole Ritland who, along with wife Sarah and seven children, arrived in America from Norway in 1855.

Next will be Larry’s great-grandfather John Ritland, who served three and a half years in the Union Army during the Civil War. He, along with fellow Civil War soldier Jonas Duea, also buried in the Roland Cemetery, served together and survived many battles, including the Battle of Vicksburg and Battle of Nashville.

“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.”

Roland and Story City have canceled their traditional celebrations for Memorial Day and are having scaled-down observances due to the pandemic.

“Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the American Legion Post 307 has canceled our normal Memorial Day Services,” said Tommy Chance, with the Roland American Legion. “With the great turn out each year, we would greatly eclipse the current restrictions on the size of an event.”

Turn out in Roland is usually around 250 participants, Chance said. Also, several groups and individuals who are part of Roland’s normal celebration will not be available to help.

“This would make managing a large audience much more difficult,” Chance said. “Adding in the additional, required protections and procedures would be unmanageable.

“We do encourage family and friends to visit the Memorial while they are at the cemetery in groups that do not exceed the prescribed numbers and use correct social distancing.

“We do want to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We also want to make sure anyone visiting the Memorial and Cemetery to have a pleasant, safe and healthy visit.”

The luncheon in Roland that usually follows the celebration will be held as a drive-thru event this year. Salem Lutheran Church in Roland will hold its annual Memorial Day Beefburger Luncheon as a Drive-Thru Grab-N-Go on Monday, May 25. Drive up will be between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The menu will include beefburgers, baked beans, chips and a cookie bar. A free-will offering will be accepted to support the missions of the church. The church thanks Thrivent for supplemental funding. Social distancing will be observed.

American Legion Post 59 in Story City will only have an honor guard and gun salute on Memorial Day, according to Tom Wheeler, manager of the Story City Legion. There will be no parade and no luncheon at the Legion building. The scaled-down ceremony will be at the Story City Cemetery.

“Having most Memorial Day observances canceled or drastically scaled back is heartbreaking,” said Ritland. “Growing up in little Roland, Iowa, attending the Memorial Day Parade is what you did on Memorial Day. 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.”

Since the Civil War, there has been a Ritland serving in every major conflict. “Although I’m not one hundred percent sure about the Spanish-American War,” Ritland said.

Ritland has a strong history of cycling his way through milestones, starting in 2016 when he celebrated his May 31 birthday by riding 68 miles to match his age of 68. In 2016 Ritland bicycled the Alaska Highway to honor his uncle, Lloyd 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. Last summer Ritland, along with his support team of one — his wife Kay — spent 74 days bicycling across the entire country, Washington State to Washington, DC, also as a tribute to the American Legion’s 100th Anniversary.

Of course this year at the end of May is birthday number 72.

An interesting story Ritland likes to share is that his sister, Karen, is married to Paul Munson, of Story City. Paul Munson’s great-grandfather is Jonas Duea. “How rare is that?” Larry asked. “A married couple, both with a great-grandfather who served together during the Civil War.”

While in Roland, Ritland will also visit the grave of his Uncle Earl Ritland who served four years in the U.S. Navy just prior to World War II. Then Ritland will honor the service of four uncles who served in World War II: Virgil Twedt, KIA, Europe - 1944, Robert Risdal - Europe, Carroll Ritland - Europe, Lloyd Ritland - Alaska Highway and Okinawa.

Many relatives on his mother’s side served as well, including Uncle Lyle Froh of Ft. Dodge in World War II, cousin Virginia Mahn of Ankeny during the Cold War, and cousin Conrad Froh of Anchorage, Alaska, during the Vietnam War.

While most formal Memorial Day events are canceled, Ritland hopes people, following social distancing guidelines, will take the time to get out and remember our heroes. If anyone wants to ride a few miles with him, Ritland said he would welcome the company. It will be an easy pace of 10-12 mph with time for breaks. Ritland’s wife plans to ride with him from Radcliffe to Roland.

Following is a brief itinerary with the time in each community. And anyone is free to call Ritland (515-460-3661) for an update on his progress if you might want to meet up with him along the route.

Slater - leave at 6 a.m.

Huxley (Fjeldberg Cemetery) - 6:25-6:35 a.m.

Ames (Municipal Cemetery) - 7:35-7:45 a.m.

McCallsburg - 9:30-9:40 a.m.

Garden City (the country cemetery) - 10:20-10:30 a.m.

Radcliffe - 11:05-11:15 a.m.

Story City - 12:30-12:40 p.m.

Roland - arrive 1:10 p.m.