Grand marshal of Alexandria Memorial Day parade wants all veterans in spotlight
For years, Dennis Carstens of Alexandria has marched in the Memorial Day parade.
This year, if he's able to, he'll ride in a convertible and serve as grand marshal.
Carstens, 66, was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and it has since spread to other parts of his body. He is now in hospice care.
But Carstens shies away from sympathy - just as he does with the recognition of being named grand marshal.
"He has always put others first and wants to help and recognize others," said his sister, Marvel Steinhorst of Alexandria. "He does all these things without looking to be honored."
Carstens is a charter member of the West Central Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), which was formed locally in 1988. He's helped with the treasurer duties and rarely misses a meeting.
In the 1990s, the VVA entered a float in a variety of area parades, including Waterama in Glenwood. Because he is so tall and skinny, Carstens always played the part of a POW in a bamboo cage on the float.
He's a big supporter of the local food shelves and makes sure the VVA is a contributor year after year.
He also works as a liaison for veterans in Douglas County, especially for vets who are currently attending Alexandria Technical and Community College. He stays in touch with them on a monthly basis to make sure that any of their special needs are taken care of.
The VVA brought "The Vietnam Wall" traveling memorial to Alexandria in May 2003 and Carstens served as chair of the project.
Carstens is well-known locally for his appreciation and support of all veterans, welcoming them home when they return from service.
He got the ball rolling for putting up signs along 34th Avenue West in Alexandria in honor of the "Red Bull" Division. At Carstens' request, the city approved the first-of-its-kind tribute to thank local soldiers.
Every Memorial Day, he puts the veteran markers and flags on each veteran gravesite at Evergreen Cemetery.
While working as mail carrier before he retired last September, he noticed Yankee Cemetery near Starbuck. He did some research and found that a veteran from the U.S.-Mexican War was buried there. He got others involved, including a 4H club and veteran groups from that area, to help clean up and maintain the cemetery. A flag pole and flag were installed and dedicated on May 12 this year.
Those close to Carstens describe him as a hard working family man - a husband, father, grandpa, son and brother, and a friend to many. He cherishes his wife, Barb, their children, Lori, Chris and Cindy, and his grandchildren, Mikkel and Abbigale.
Many of his family members plan to be at Monday's parade to show their honor and support for Carstens and other veterans who have a way of putting other people's lives ahead of their own.
MEMORIAL DAY PARADE
Led by Grand Marshal Dennis Carstens, the Alexandria Memorial Day parade will form at 8th Avenue and Broadway on Monday, May 28. It will start at 10 a.m. and proceed to Kinkead Cemetery where a ceremony will take place at 11 a.m.
THE MILITARY SERVICE
OF DENNIS CARSTENS
Dennis Carstens served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War with the Military Police after he was drafted on April 23, 1968. He served from 1968-1969 and was also in the National Guard for several years.