In the small farming town where I grew up in Ohio, Memorial Day combined graduation, town reunion, barbecued chicken fundraiser for the volunteer fire department and patriotism. The parade, something every kid wanted to participate in, began at 10 a.m. The fire trucks and marching band led the way followed by scout troops, baton twirlers of all ages, antique cars, pony carts, and a military honor guard. After a rousing ceremony at the civil war monument in the center of town -- Fred Sumney delivered the Gettysburg Address, the barbershop chorus sang several patriotic or at least Americana songs, the parade continues.
The whole community lined the streets. People had returned for reunions with classmates, friends, family and neighbors. As we proceeded to the cemetery at the edge of town for another ceremony, we all took the opportunity to greet and get reacquainted with everyone we hadn't seen in the past year.
At the ceremony the marching band played. Usually at least one band member fainted in their wool uniform under the hot May sun. A political celebrity stumping for re-election usually gave some rousing address. If it wasn't a big election year, we heard from the mayor.
One year Mom was the honored grand marshal. They honored her for her years of service as a dispatcher for the volunteer fire department.
When we got to the cemetery, the atmosphere changed as we saw the flags posted on too many graves. There was Dave Cox who joined the Navy and was killed during the Vietnam War. John Hale, a sniper in Vietnam -- what a marksman he was and a heart throb in high school. Carter and Helen Blunden's son Jack lay buried in the cemetery. He died during World War II. The picture on his gravestone will show him forever young. There are more and sadly I don't remember all of them. The 'old' cemetery is filled with Civil War dead.
The cemetery, even a quiet place on Memorial Day, doesn't begin to reflect the horror, pain, fear, suffering and heroism these dead endured to make us free. For a taste of that, we can watch the evening news. Once again a war unfolds and takes the lives of our brave soldiers.
For those fighting on this weekend, we must not forget. Visit Any Soldier to send a package or message to let them know we have not forgotten them and to thank them.
A writing friend and veteran, Linda Swink, has put together a remarkable book "Lest We Forget." It will be published soon. It includes the real people behind the names of military installations such as Camp Pendelton or Fort Hood. There are generals and history making names, but also everyman heroes such as Technician 5th Grade John J. Pinder, Jr. Pinder Barracks in Zirndorf, Germany is named after this valiant soldier from McKees Rocks, PA. He served with the 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division and died June 6, 1944.
His citation includes: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on D-day.... Technician Pinder landed on the coast one hundred yards off shore under devastating enemy machine gun and artillery fire which caused severe casualties among the boatload. Carrying a vitally important radio, he struggled toward the shore in waist deep water. Only a few yards from his craft he was hit by enemy fire and was gravely wounded. Technician 5th Grade Pinder, never stopped. He made shore and delivered the radio. Refusing to take cover afforded, or to accept medical attention for his wounds, Technician 5th Grade Pinder, though terribly weakened by loss of blood and in fierce pain, on three occasions went into the fire-swept surf to salvage communication equipment. He recovered many vital parts and equipment, including another workable radio. On the third trip, he was again hit, suffering machine gun bullet wounds in the legs. Still this valiant soldier would not stop for rest or medical attention. Remaining exposed to heavy enemy fire, growing steadily weaker, he aided in establishing the vital radio communication on the beach. While so engaged this dauntless soldier was hit for the third time and killed....."
So between bites of barbecue or while lounging on the beach, please take a moment to remember the people who are not celebrating -- those on watch, those who died, those who are dedicated to protecting your freedom and mine.