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Memorial Day ~ more than the beginning of summer

Members of the Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps perform a 21-gun salute and play Taps Sunday afternoon at the Arbovale Cemetery as part of the annual Memorial Day service. From left, commander Rick Wooddell, Liz Gay, Harvey Galford, Tom VanReenan, Howard Shinabery, Larry Carrico, Clyde White, Sam Arbogast, Willard Pingley, Don Waybright and Barry Sharp. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Since its inception during the Civil War, Decorations Day, or as it is now known, Memorial Day, has been a day of remembrance.

At the Arbovale United Methodist Church Sunday, the day was a day to celebrate the lives of those lost in the past year, as well as all those who put their lives on the line to protect and serve this country.

Guest speaker David Jonese, former Pocahontas County Sheriff and retired Marine spoke about the history of Memorial Day and how it remains a day of gratefulness and honor.

“It’s a day set aside to honor the sacrifices of soldiers who gave their lives in defense of our nation,” he said. “A tradition that began with the conclusion of the Civil War. A day to allow us, the protected, to honor and decorate the graves of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.”

While it is a day of remembrance, Memorial Day has also turned into a day to celebrate the beginning of summer, which takes away from the true meaning of the national holiday.

Jonese said he himself once wavered, forgetting what the holiday meant and instead saw it as a day to kick-off summer.

“In my preparation for today, I reflected on what Memorial Day has meant to me throughout my lifetime,” he said. “I quickly realized I didn’t understand Memorial Day, and I often wonder how many other people don’t understand Memorial Day. To me, that’s what it was, a three-day weekend. The weekend summer begins officially for all of us. A weekend when picnics and barbecues officially begin. The weekend when swimming pools open and boats hit the waterways and as a young kid, it was the weekend I got to go place flags on the military graves at the Arbovale Cemetery.

“While all that is true, that is not what Memorial Day is supposed to be,” he continued. “As we have progressed and grown as a country, we have lost sight of the true meaning of what Memorial Day really means. We have gradually become a nation who has lost close ties to those who have so gallantly served our nation. We have become a country divided by politics, ideology and race. A nation that seems to have lost its collective soul. A nation focused on ‘me’ – on the pleasures and personal gains of the individual. We have lost our collective belief that we are a nation of One. That we are America.”

As Jonese reflected on the history of Memorial Day, he noted that at one time, men and women in the service were celebrated and honored, and citizens made sacrifices to help with war efforts.

“Almost every family had a relative or family friend in uniform,” he said. “Every town, every community had someone in war or knew someone in war. Much of the rest of the population supported war efforts either working in industrial complexes or as nurses or doctors. Everybody had a connection to somebody in battle.”

During World War II, 16 million of the 90 million people in the United States served in the Armed Forces. In support of those men and women, people back home did what they could to see the country through the war.

“As in the conflicts before, the majority of those who did not or could not serve directly, served their soldiers by working in industry, building ships and tanks and planes for the troops overseas,” Jonese said. “As a kid, I even heard of how young kids here during that time supported the war effort by collecting milkweed pods and aluminum gum wrappers. I’m sure some of you remember that, as well.”

Through the years since World War II, there has been a disconnect, Jonese said. The country changed and the support waned. Due to these changes, the country looks at the military in a different light.

“Now in a nation of over 360 million people with a military with a little over one million, the connection of the protected to those who provide the nation’s protection has become the most distant in our country’s history,” he said. “As a result, only those who have direct connection to our service members understand the sacrifices that they still – to this day – make for this country.

“In turn, when we stop to commemorate Memorial Day, only those who have that connection to the armed forces, either currently or from the past, understand its meaning,” he continued. “To the rest of the country, Memorial Day still is that long three-day holiday weekend that marks the beginning of summer. But even for those of us who do have a more personal association to Memorial Day, we too have fallen victim to the false narrative of this weekend.”

Memorial Day is a day to remember those who came before us, not just in the past few years, but decades and centuries before us, because they molded the world we live in today, Jonese explained.

“We all have life today as we know it because of those who came before us and were willing to lay down their lives so that we – their friends, their family – could have the life and freedoms that we enjoy today,” he said. “Those facing the nation’s enemies on the battlefield are not directly fighting over those perceived national differences. No. They battle the enemy on a much more personal level and a more humanistic level.

“They’re fighting to protect that person on their right or their left,” he continued. “They’re fighting to protect their friend who is fighting in the foxhole beside them; protect their family and friends at home. To protect our way of life. A way of life that they deeply believe in that they would sacrifice their lives to uphold. They are fighting for a cause greater than themselves.”

While Memorial Day began as a day to celebrate the men and women who served and ultimately died for their country, it is also a day to remember loved ones who shaped all of us as individuals and served the communities they loved and called home.

“There are others who also selflessly served that I would like each of us to honor today,” Jonese said. “Those who may not have served in the military, but who as mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, gave of themselves to ensure that we had the best lives possible. A life safe and filled with love. Those who dedicated their lives to us, their sons and daughters and their community to make this place we call home a wonderful place to live.

“So let us now take time to recognize each of them and reflect on their life and the goodness they have given to each and every one of us,” he concluded.

After Jonese’s address, the congregation honored those who passed away between May 29, 2016 and May 28, 2017. As John Davis read the names of those community members, Mary Ralston and Suzanne Stewart helped family members place carnations in floral arrangements.

The floral arrangements were placed at the flagpole at the Arbovale Cemetery, where the Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps concluded the Memorial Day service with a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps.

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