MIDDLETOWN, Iowa -- The Iowa Army Ammunition Plant held its annual Memorial Ceremony, May 23, to remember and honor the 70 patriots who have lost their lives during its history of ammo production here.

Lt. Col. Stephen T. Koehler, IAAAP commander, welcomed a gathering of plant employees, guests and family members.

"It's a great day to observe Memorial Day and honor great Americans who made sacrifices for our nation," said Koehler. "Today, in particular, we are here to honor the 70 men and women that gave their lives while serving here at the Iowa Army Ammunition plant in the defense of our country."

"No words can ever truly express the heartfelt condolences from a grateful nation. None of these patriots should ever fade from our memory and by honoring them today, they never will," Koehler added. "Today is about keeping their memories alive. Family members, plant employees and community members feel awed by the enormity of sacrifices of these men and women."

The ceremony honored the employees who have lost their lives since ammunition production began at the plant in 1941. It was held at the Eagle Park Memorial, a monument dedicated in 2007, where the employees' names are permanently engraved in a granite marker. Mr. Randall Kinney, chief of quality assurance, served as the emcee and read the names of each person, followed by the playing of 'Amazing Grace' on the bagpipes.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. John McGuiness, president, American Ordnance, operating contractor for IAAAP, provided additional memorial remarks.

"Memorial Day is a time to recognize the ultimate sacrifices by those in service to our nation, it also reminds us you don't have to wear a uniform to serve the country," said McGuiness. "These 70 patriots that we recognize this morning are heroes in their own right. They came to work every day, did their best, contributed, and ensured great products went out to those who needed it the most. It's unfortunate and sad that these accidents occurred and took their lives all too soon. Those that gave the ultimate sacrifice here at our facility should never be forgotten and this memorial allows us to recognize their sacrifice every single day."

Many family members of victims traveled from across Iowa, Illinois and other states to attend the ceremony.

LaVera Leebold, Dallas City, Illinois, is the sister of Sylvia Clark, who died in October of 1967 when Sylvia was 18 years old. Leebold traveled with other family members who wore a sticker image of Sylvia on their clothing during the ceremony. The Clark family travels every year to the ceremony to honor Sylvia's memory.

Leebold said the ceremony is important to her and her family. They know people have not forgotten those that lost their lives, including civilians like her sister, who worked at the plant during the Vietnam War era.

The ceremony featured a Burlington Police and Fire Department Honor Guard; a firing detail from a Burlington, Iowa, Veteran Council; an invocation and prayer by Pastor Tamara Wirt, Danville United Methodist Church; bagpipes by Gene Wilkerson; and, the playing of taps by Mark Eveleth.

In November of 1940, 19,000 acres were acquired by the government in the Middletown, Iowa, area. Construction of the Iowa Ordnance Plant began in January 1941, and the first item rolled off the production line in September of 1942.

In 1963, the plant was renamed the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant, and in 1998, American Ordnance, LLC, became the operating contractor.

The Iowa Army Ammunition plant is a subordinate installation of Joint Munitions Command, headquartered at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. JMC manages 16 ammunition manufacturing plants and storage depots that provide ammunition to all military services. JMC produces small-, medium- and large-caliber ammunition items for the Department of Defense. JMC provides the Joint Force with ready, reliable, lethal munitions at the speed of war sustaining global readiness.