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By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Veterans honor those who came before

To emphasize the point, she turned to her 5-year-old and asked, “Why are we here today?” Eden, decked out in a blue and white dress set off by a pair of red shoes, responded, “To pay our respects ... “

Her mother, also wearing American colors, joined her so they finished the sentence together: “... our respects for those who fought for our freedom.”

They weren’t alone in that sentiment. Several dozen people gathered at the cemetery for the service, organized by the American Legion Post 21, the American Legion Riders and the Legion Auxiliary.

The Y-C event was part of a full day of Memorial Day remembrances hosted by veterans. The group also made presentations at the Amity, Dayton Odd Fellows and Evergreen cemeteries, in downtown Dayton and at the McMinnville Legion hall.

During the event at Y-C, the American flag took pride of place. Alongside it, Army paratrooper Mark Heasley held a black POW/MIA flag.

“This is a way for us to give back so people understand what veterans did, what THEY did,” Heasley said.

He was referring particularly to World War II vets, who especially deserve recognition, he said. “They are the ‘Greatest Generation,’” he noted.

Heasley said he was inspired by those who served before him when he joined the Army. He fought in Grenada, served in the Sinai following the peace accord signed by President Jimmy Carter and helped restore order during the Indiantown Gap Cuban refugee riot.

During Monday’s ceremony, Steven Farley, a Legion rider, stepped up beside Heasley to talk about POW/MIAs — American servicemen still missing from numerous conflicts. We must never forget them or stop trying to bring them home, he said.

Farley, an Air Force veteran, said he was participating in the Memorial Day event mostly in honor of his father, decorated WWII, Korea and Vietnam veteran Homer Farley, who died earlier this year.

“I do this in remembrance of my dad and all veterans,” he said. “We would not have the freedoms we have today without their sacrifices, and the sacrifices of their families.

“More people need to honor fallen veterans,” he added. “More people need to remember they’ve given us all the freedoms we have today.”

Richard McJunkin, who helped organized the Memorial Day tour, told the crowd about the history of the holiday.

Until 1971, when it was made one of the Monday federal holidays, it was called “Decoration Day” and celebrated on May 30. That date was chosen in 1868 for a reason: none of the Civil War battles had taken place on May 30, so it was considered a “neutral” day for honoring all those who died in the War Between the States.

Before that, Civil War soldiers had been honored on various days at cemeteries near numerous battlefields. Widows and mothers placed spring flowers on the graves, leading to the name “Decoration Day.”

It wasn’t until after World War I that the whole nation marked the holiday, McJunkin said. The world war brought Americans together to fight a common cause, finally healing rifts remaining from the Civil War.

Over the decades, Decoration Day became the date to honor all fallen soldiers, from every conflict. And today, as Memorial Day, it’s also a day to honor other loved ones who’ve died, not just veterans.

We must remember Memorial Day’s origins and its purpose, McJunkin said. Some people now consider it the start of summer, he said. But they should never forget that it’s a day for honoring those who fought for our freedoms.

After McJunkin spoke, Elva Salinas and Gretchen Jones of the Legion Auxiliary laid a red, white and blue flowered wreath near the flag and a display of boots, a rifle and a helmet, denoting those killed in action.

The wreath represents the message of “honor, respect and love” that should be on each soldier’s grave, Salinas said. She said each of these veterans “did whatever had to be done ... was brave enough to give his life ... never will be forgotten.”

Then gunfire shattered the quiet as Angel Mendoza, Vic Banke and Thomas Clayton, members of the Veterans Honor Guard, fired their rifles three times. The reports echoed off the nearby hills, reinforcing the salute.

Honor guard members and others stood at attention as the ceremony ended with “Taps.”

On either side of the ceremony, Chuck Knapp and Marylou Keller lifted their bugles. The notes of the national song of remembrance echoed, then faded, leaving silence once more.


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