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Gone but never forgotten: A salute to America’s fallen heroes

Before the days when Memorial Day morphed into a three-day weekend filled with barbecues, beaches and pool parties, the holiday was created for a more somber purpose than the unofficial kickoff to the summer season.

In the year following the end of the Civil War, Memorial Day was created to pay homage to the hundreds of thousands of military members who had lost their lives in the fight.

Today, Memorial Day honors all those who have given their lives in service to the country, without whom the freedoms and liberties enjoyed by Americans may have been lost.

Despite Congress’ decision more than five decades ago to institute the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which changed the date of Memorial Day to the fourth Monday in May, the Veterans of Foreign Wars has continued to observe the holiday on May 30, the date originally selected for the occasion.

VFW Post #10054 hosted its Memorial Day Ceremony on Tuesday, with several dozen area residents, both veterans and civilians alike, gathered beneath the pergola for the morning ceremony.

The event opened with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and an opening prayer, which was followed by the renewal of the colors. Two officers of the post lowered the worn American flag and POW flag, replaced them with brand new flags and raised them back to full height before returning them to half-staff in recognition of the holiday.

“Thank you all for being here for this important, yet somber, occasion,” VFW Post #10054 Commander Steven Kennard said in welcome. He offered a brief background of the beginnings of Memorial Day, remarking that it was initially called Decoration Day.

“Memorial Day as we know it today was born as Decoration Day in Waterloo, New York, back in 1866 when Henry Wells, a local drugstore owner, suggested that all businesses close for one day to honor, in a solemn and patriotic manner, the fallen soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War. A group of Confederate widows decorated fresh graves with wildflowers, the townspeople made wreaths and crosses to place upon those headstones, flags waved proudly at half-staff and an American tradition was born,” Kennard explained.

“Now, nearly 160 years later, I stand before you on this proud day of remembrance and ask that you join in me in not only remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of this great nation but also in truly reflecting on their legacy. There has been no other nation on earth whose sacrifice has been greater than ours. Nowhere in the pages of history has there been a country before ours that has paid a higher price for the freedom of others,” he continued.

Kennard then recited a quote from President John F. Kennedy. “’As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.’ I ask that today, you embrace those words in their entirety,” Kennard stated, adding, “The lives of our fallen soldiers, our fathers, our mothers, our brothers, our sisters, our comrades, were lives not lost in vain or even anguish, for each life lost has contributed to the evolution of America as we know it today; a free nation, a strong nation, a nation that stands its tallest when we all stand together. So as we stand together today, we are reminded of the true cost of freedom and while we as a nation mourn the lives lost, we celebrate the lives lived, and are forever grateful.”

The courage displayed by those who have fought for America cannot be learned, Kennard emphasized. Rather, it is felt deep within. The willingness to don a uniform in the U.S. Armed Forces, even amid the knowledge that this could mean death, is something that must always be revered and respected, as it is what truly makes this country the home of the brave. On Memorial Day, and indeed, every day of the year, America’s adults must make certain than the next generation understands the heavy cost of freedom and the importance of never forgetting the sacrifices made by those who have come before.

“The relatively few patriots who wear the cloth of our country leave the lives they have grown accustomed to and thrust themselves into unfamiliar and dangerous territories, eager to succeed in their endeavors. From Maine’s rocky Atlantic Coast to the Golden State’s sandy beaches, this is the land of the free, ensured by the generations who believed America is worth fighting for, worth dying for,” Kennard concluded. “As we leave here today, let us recommit ourselves to keeping the memory of our fallen alive. Let us ensure our youth understand at an early age that their freedom was paid forward at great expense. Let us work to educate others of the true meaning of Memorial Day and let us vow to stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves… God bless all our departed heroes, their families and God bless America.”

To cap off the ceremony, Marine Corps League Detachment #1199 Commandant Tom Vick, also a former commander of the VFW, offered a final, simple yet eloquent prayer, “They died for us, so now, let’s live for them. Amen.”

The Memorial Day ceremony was followed by a Flag Retirement Ceremony, facilitated by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts at noon, and a barbecue for all to enjoy.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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