They came in shorts, T-shirts and sandals. They came in dress whites. They came in denim and heavily decorated leather vests. The high school band came in its black tie best. They came with their children in strollers, and they came with their grandparents pushing walkers. More than a few came alone.
They took a break from barbecues, waterskiing, campaigning for office and preparations for graduation. They came to one of the many Memorial Day services across the country to honor the memory of military veterans who are no longer with us, at least not physically.
About 400 of them came to Redding Memorial Park on Monday. Those people came to a service that … how to put this gently … lacked military precision. The F-15 from the Oregon 173rd Fighter Wing missed by a mile or two, offering those of us at the cemetery only its low-flying roar. Participants in the Navy two-bell ceremony were not quite sure when to ring those bells. Several solemn moments, including the playing of “Taps,” were interrupted for people in the back when someone started a car or a golf cart, or rode into the cemetery on a motorcycle.
But none of that stuff could outweigh the reason we were gathered at a graveyard on a gorgeous day off work, rather than fishing at the lake. The three Pearl Harbor survivors who struggled a bit with the two-bell ceremony received a spontaneous and heartfelt standing ovation. Their real service came more than 60 years ago, when they helped save the United States and the rest of the civilized world from fascism and hatred. It was fitting to honor them in person while we still can.
Retired Army Master Sgt. Irene Castro reminded us that not all deceased veterans were men, that we must remember the World War II WACS and other women who did their part to preserve our freedoms.
“We must ensure the younger generation understands these freedoms are not free,” Castro said. “We must teach our children and our grandchildren to honor our heroes. We need them to not only hear “Taps,” but to feel “Taps.”
Retired Army Major Kurt Walling, who now heads the ROTC program at Simpson University in Redding, recalled when a land mine claimed a member of his platoon in 1991. A similar incident could happen to a member of the armed services any time, in any one of many locations. Walling urged us to remember that there are U.S. soldiers all over the world who “could die during this speech.”
“The patriots in this hallowed place,” Walling concluded, “have ensured our freedom. Let us remember them always.”
Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and co-author of Guide to California Planning, a reference book and college text. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.