Remembering and celebrating those who fought and died for our nation’s freedom was the theme of Monday’s Memorial Day activities.
Veterans and their families, along with local elected officials, came out to Crown Hill Cemetery for American Legion Post 16’s ceremony, which included participation by members of Legion Post 642, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2591 and Voiture 333 of the 40 & 8.
Lt. Col. Darren P. Fitz Gerald, professor of military science at Wentworth Military Junior College in Lexington, delivered the address and focused on the holiday’s roots as Decoration Day.
“What does it really mean to decorate? It can’t simply mean to adorn, to beautify,” Fitz Gerald said. “As a country, we’ve pretty much mastered that, we decorate everything.”
He then pointed out that the word’s Latin root, “decus,” means pride and dignity, honor, distinction and glory.
“We need to decorate our nation with the stories of our servicemen and women,” Fitz Gerald told the crowd. “On this unique American holiday, we must not forget a price was paid for our freedom, that it is fitting for us to celebrate that freedom today. Celebrate with a purpose, celebrate to decorate, decorate the difference they made with their lives. Decorate with pride, with honor and with the stories of their service.”
Jim Gaertner, chaplain of Voiture 333 of the 40 & 8, made a plea before delivering the benediction.
“Let me encourage each of us to remember the names,” he said. “Everybody here this morning has a name or names that are special to them. Maybe a family member, a loved one, a brother who fell at your side. ... Remember the names and speak them to your family, speak them to your children, tell about them to your friends and neighbors. But remember the names.”
The ceremony also included the laying of wreaths in recognition of those who died in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and all other conflicts; Smith-Cotton JROTC cadets lowered the flag to half-staff, and recent S-C graduate Richard Barnier played taps.
Councilman Wiley Walter and his wife, Helen, were in attendance, saying they come out for it every year.
“It’s a nice tribute to the veterans, a good way to start the day,” Walter said.
His wife noted that it was her birthday, “but today the veterans are first.”
After the program, the 40 & 8 held its annual flag retirement ceremony and Memorial Day picnic at Liberty Park. Tony Gallagher, Chef de Gare of Voiture 333, examined three well-worn American flags with the flag detail — Larry Banks, J.R. Heck and Curtis Mokshefski, all of Sedalia — then directed them to properly retire the flags by incinerating them.
Heck and Mokshefski took turns bringing worn and tattered flags to a large metal drum to burn them.
Mokshefski said, “It is important to do it the right way, to honor and respect the flag.”
Ernest Parker, of Green Ridge, was cooking bratwurst, hot dogs and hamburgers on a flat-top grill. Despite overcast skies earlier in the morning, he was glad the weather “worked out well, temperature-wise.”
Marine Corps veteran Jim Stever, of Sedalia, was enjoying a bratwurst and chatting with Air Force veteran Terry Vogel, of Cole Camp.
“I was too old for Korea and too young for Vietnam,” Stever said, lavishing praise on those who served in combat roles.
“When I came out of high school, we didn’t have a choice” about serving in the military, he said, “Today (recruits) choose to go in — they’re good.”
Vogel said Memorial Day is “our one day every year. It ought to be every day with all the sacrifices that have been made.”
He said for many young people, the day has become all about “burgers and beer. But they wouldn’t be able to do that without all of these guys here.”
That was a point Fitz Gerald made as he closed his address.
“Every single man and woman serving in our Army today volunteered to serve, these soldiers and their families are truly the decoration of America’s military,” he said. “Many return home to streets decorated with yellow ribbons ... for others, they return home in a casket draped with the most honored decoration of all, the American flag. They gave their service, they gave their optimism, and in the end, they gave their lives.
“What do we owe them? ... We owe our service, we owe our optimism and we owe our lives.”