Memorial Day brings Peninsula together
ILWACO - "Friends and comrades, this day is sacred with the almost visible presence of those who have gone before us," said American Legion Post 48 Commander Mauri Smith as he welcomed those in attendance of this year's Memorial Day service at the Ilwaco cemetery Monday.
The small group of 50 or so that gathered were there to remember and to honor those who have given what President Lincoln called, "the last full measure of devotion." Before and after the service, many took time to comb through the hills of the yard, walking past gravestones adorned with a U.S. flag, noting service in the military. Stones like that of Marshall C. Rogers, who served in the Navy during World War I or Morris Elmers Holsey, who was a Naval Reservist during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and later died in service.
The day began with members of the Legion Post traveling to the cemeteries in Oysterville and Ocean Park, Lone Fir in Long Beach and ending at the Ilwaco cemetery. Following the main service there, the entourage held one final service at the war memorial at Black Lake, where the names of those from the Peninsula who died in service were read.
"Even though there is sadness in remembering the dead of our nation's wars, Memorial Day is a celebration of the hope that the ideals of peace, freedom and prosperity will shine forever bright in the life of our nation and the lives of every American," said Capt. Michael Ferrell of Coast Guard Air Group Astoria, who was the keynote speaker at Monday's event.
Thirty Peninsula residents have died in service, including 20 from World War II, one from the Gulf War and nine in the tragic end to the Coast Guard cutter Triumph. In all, it is estimated that over 1 million men and women have given their life in service of the U.S. military. This somber reminder was evident the night before on television as the program 60 Minutes aired something similar to what Life magazine did in the '60s with pictures of soldiers who had died in Vietnam - a haunting, heartbreaking tribute to all the U.S. soldiers who have died since the war in Iraq began and supposedly ended. For over 15 minutes, picture after picture passed to the sound of funereal orchestral music in the background - more than 800 pictures.
"By observing Memorial Day, we ensure that their memory and spirit did not die with them," said Ferrell, "whether on a wheat field in Gettysburg, a beach head in Normandy, a frozen hilltop in Korea, a jungle in southeast Asia or the barren sands of the Middle East."
The holiday that would be Memorial Day was born out of the Civil War, when many soldiers were laid to rest in enemy territory, their graves falling into disrepair due to neglect. This caused widow women in Columbus, Miss. to place flowers on the graves of their husbands former enemies in April, 1866. This is considered the first observation of Memorial Day.
Three years after the Civil War ended, Major John Logan, commander-in-chief- of an organization of former Union servicemen, proclaimed May 30 Decoration Day, issuing the order to decorate soldier's graves with choice springtime flowers. In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day. In the northern United States, it was designated a public holiday. In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday, to be observed on the last Monday in May.
And as those in attendance went on with their day, or to the Legion Hall for a holiday meal amongst tables decked out in flags and red paper poppies, they were left a message that would hopefully stick with them.
"Memorial Day is about many things, but it is mostly about refusing to forget," said Ferrell. "Before we leave here today, let us offer a prayer of thanks to those who are currently serving and the gallant souls of our departed comrades, friends and loved ones."