Many of us can remember back to our childhood and our local Memorial Day events of days gone by. As Memorial Day 2011 approaches, I am reminded that as a young Cub Scout in Upper Sandusky, Ohio our duty began on the Tuesday before Memorial Day. At our weekly Den meeting our Den Mother would give us the history of Memorial Day and reminded us of our obligation to meet at the St. Paul Lutheran Church on Friday immediately after school in full uniform. Once at the church we were driven to the one of the local cemeteries to place flags at the graves of every veteran.
In the mid-60’s America was at war in a place called Viet Nam but to many of us in our small town, it was a place we could hardly pronounce and certainly knew nothing about. During the drive to the cemetery our scout leader reinforced the history of Memorial Day. Upon arrival at our destination, we were each given a six-inch wooden ruler and instructed to place the flag in the special flag holder donated by local organizations centered exactly six inches in from the headstone. After placing the flag properly we took two steps back and gave the Boy Scout hand salute. Scout leaders and senior scouts “supervised” to ensure that our duties were conducted accurately and reverently which meant absolutely no talking. At the cemetery our leaders gave instructions in a hushed voice.
On Memorial Day local police and fire department vehicles with their lights flashing and the occasional yelps of the sirens led the parade of county local high school bands, convertibles with former prisoners of war waving to cheering crowds and younger veterans marched smartly behind. Boy and Girl Scout troops followed by the cub scouts and brownie scouts made the annual pilgrimage that began at Neate’s automobile dealership.
To me, it looked like the entire town of 5,000 had lined the parade route that proceeded south on North Sandusky Avenue for one-half mile to the town square then turned left onto West Wyandot Avenue for one mile down the hill to the Harrison Smith Park and the Veterans Memorial.
Our Uncles Robert and Ivan served in World War II and my siblings and I knew that our father was a Korean War veteran, but none of us really understood its significance. Dad never marched in the parade nor did he ever talk about his military service. What we did understand was that we were reared with the near-reverent respect for those who wear and have worn the uniform of our nation—a lesson I have never forgotten.
This year marks the first anniversary of my father’s death, which makes this Memorial Day even more poignant. In addition to my large American flag proudly displayed daily, several additional smaller flags will be prominently displayed in flower urns on my front porch.
I will telephone Dan Murphy and Maureen Murphy, parents of LT Michael P. Murphy and let them know that they are in my thoughts and prayers and then make the 150-mile drive to Oak Hill Cemetery in Upper Sandusky and place a memorial wreath at my father’s grave; admire the American Flag in its bronze holder and most probably shed a tear or two as I remember those fond memories of him and of the Memorial Days long since passed.
Throughout our national history, approximately 1 percent of each generation has answered the call to military service. They liberated Europe, defended people they had never met and countries they had never visited, and since September 2001 defended us against terrorist attacks here at home.
This Memorial Day, let us take a few minutes from our family gatherings to remember those who fill our national cemeteries here at home and those hundreds of thousands who repose in eternal rest in the foreign lands for which they fought.
Let us keep “Memorial” in Memorial Day by remembering and following General John Logan’s General Order No. 11 issued on May 5, 1868, “…gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime…let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude,–the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”
Thanks Dad, and thank you to all those who defend freedom.