Remembering the fallen
By Jeff Eason
In the midst of the parties, picnics, shopping and other festivities involved in the three-day Memorial Day weekend, many people in the High Country took time to honor our fallen military veterans.
More than a dozen veterans met at Blowing Rock Memorial Park along with their families, friends and visitors to the town for a Memorial Day celebration Monday morning.
The event featured the lowering of the park’s American flag to half-staff, the singing of patriotic songs, and speeches from Col. Bill Parker (U.S. Marines, ret.), Ron Oberle (U.S. Navy, ret.) and Jim West (U.S. Air Force, ret.).
Lynn Lawrence sang an a cappella rendition of “God Bless America” and the entire group sang the official anthems of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
“At a local restaurant, my wife and I were asked, ‘What is the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day?’” said Parker. “We had been placing small American flags at the headstones of veterans in 15 small family and church cemeteries around the area and had stopped for lunch.
“I explained that Memorial Day is an annual holiday to honor all armed services personnel killed in wars in the defense of our country. Veteran’s Day, on the other hand, is a holiday to honor all who are serving or have served in uniform, whether they had participated in combat or not.”
Parker explained to the crowd how Memorial Day had originally been called Decoration Day and one of its traditions is to decorate the graves of veterans with flowers and flags.
“It was first observed on May 30th, 1868, for the purpose of decorating the graves of American Civil War dead, both Union and Confederate,” said Parker.
Parker noted that many of the older cemeteries that he and other American Legion members visited in the days running up to Memorial Day were in serious need of upkeep. Many of them are family graveyards and cemeteries that were next to churches that no longer exist.
“Most of us are familiar with the old adage attributed to General Douglas McArthur, ‘Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.’ That saying is grossly untrue on two counts.
“First of all, old soldiers do die, often in combat; and so do young soldiers, and sailors, and marines and airmen. In time of war, service members, young and old, men and women, from every branch of military service, die defending our country and our way of life, even as we speak here today.
“They fight in popular and unpopular wars, in countries all over the world. They carry the American flag, and the ideals and values for which it stands, to every corner of the world.
“They don’t go for glory, or honor, or fame. They go because their duly elected officials, who represent the American people, including you and me, ask them to place themselves in harms way.
“They sacrifice family, friends, and often their lives, to serve their country.
“The New Testament tells us that there is no greater love than to give your life for another. Our fallen comrades have demonstrated that love, and that is what Memorial Day is all about.
“The second misconception is that ‘old soldiers just fade away.’ Our fallen comrades don’t fade away. In most cases, they are simply forgotten. One reason for this is that the true meaning of Memorial Day has been lost by a lot of people.
“To most Americans, Memorial Day is simply one of the federal holidays that bracket the summer season. Memorial Day for them marks the beginning of summer, the opening of the community swimming pool, the start of family vacation, the first barbecue of the year, or much-needed three-day weekend.
“For the shopping malls and department stores, Memorial Day is an excuse for one more spectacular sales event.
“Today we honor our fellow residents of Blowing Rock listed on that plaque here in Memorial Park who died in combat in the service of their country. Their hopes and dreams stopped prematurely but their memory and their sacrifice must never be forgotten.”
Among the veterans present at the Memorial Day celebration were three World War II veterans: A.B. Pearson, Bill Magruder and William C. Stone.