Under the “Big Flag”, people gathered to reflect upon the lives of those that are named on the rocks within the park. Others quietly reflected upon times gone by, names seldom spoken but memories never forgotten.
Ken Carrothers, commander of American Legion Post 19 read a poem by 28-year old John Hunter Wichersham from World War I. The words, long written, speak of the anguish that his mother felt.
The final word of the poem, “The Raindrops on Your Old Tin Hat,” reads:
“And, fellows, she’s the hero of this great, big ugly war,
And her prayer is on the wind across the felt,
And don’t you reckon maybe it’s her tears, and not the rain,
That’s keeping up the patter on your old tin hat?”
Just days after writing that poem, Second Lieutenant Wichersham was severely wounded in four places near Limey, France. He rendered aid to his fellow comrades and continued to fight, firing his revolver with his left hand, since his right had been wounded.
Exhausted from battle and his fight, on Sept. 12, 1918, he fell on the field of battle. He was given the Medal of Honor, posthumously.
Memorial Day began in 1868 to remember the dead of the Civil War. A drugstore owner in Waterloo, N.Y. encouraged businesses to close for one day to honor those Civil War soldiers, an idea that was well received. On that day, wildflowers were placed on graves, wreaths and crosses placed upon headstones and the flag was flown at half-staff. From that time, a tradition was born.
“We must ensure the youth of tomorrow understand the true cost of freedom. There is no greater way to honor the memory of those who have secured it,” Commander John Stroud of John Franklin Shain Post 2313 in Hawthorne.
He concluded his speech by saying, “As we depart, we will undoubtedly continue to bear the burden of loss that comes with losing a family member, friend, one of our brothers or sisters-in-arms…but may we find comfort in knowing their lives were not lost in vain, and remain forever grateful to them for having gifted us the greatest gift on earth…freedom.”
Attending his first Memorial Day ceremony as commander of the Hawthorne Army Depot, Lt. Col. Scott Bishop reminded those in attendance about the true meaning of Memorial Day.
“…let us recommit ourselves to remind all Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day. We can do this in so many simple, yet meaningful ways – visit memorials or cemeteries and place flags or flowers on the graves of those fallen service members; fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until 12 noon and pledge to help those widows and widowers, parents and children of the fallen.”
Knowing that many think of this day as a “day from work”, he stated, “By way of history, the National Moment of Remembrance was established by Congress in 2000. It reportedly came about after a group of schoolchildren touring the U.S. Capitol were asked about the meaning of Memorial Day. Their reply? “It’s the day the pool opens.” When I hear a story like that, I can’t help but be reminded of the words of Calvin Coolidge who, in a speech not long after the end of World War I, said “the nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.” He called upon those to take up President Ronald Reagan’s challenge and though action, keep the memories of those lost – alive.