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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

AMERICA'S SMALL TOWNS REFLECT MEMORIAL DAY

It's in small towns across America that the real meaning of Memorial Day shines through. Here in Warwick, New York, my home for 29 years, the poignancy of the parade ebbs and flows with the times. These days, with my son returning to Iraq this summer, I stand pensively: hand over heart, I listen to Warwick’s High School band play The Star Spangled Banner.

Tears flow as I watch, for the 29th time, Caroline Lesando, Warwick's Gold Star Mother who lost her boy in Vietnam, ride through town and lay one more wreath at the Memorial site. Our town's American Legion Post is named after him. I glance down at the blue star pin I wear, a sign of my boy's service today.

The speeches by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and local politicians at the Warwick Cemetery are stirring. No platitudes; they take this seriously. We stand at the first stop of three cemeteries where 3000 flags have been placed at Veterans' graves by vets aided by our town's Boy and Girl Scouts.

The American Legion officers and the Ladies Auxiliary place wreaths at their memorial. Prayers are offered, and the band plays God Bless America. Kate Smith would be proud of my rendition though my voice is choked with emotion. From a knoll rising above the memorial, four men in uniform fire salutes as Taps is played. My eyes scan the crowd. Each year there are fewer veterans, but there are no sloppy salutes, and everyone stands even if it is a struggle.


Years ago we came to the parade with my mother and father. My father was a WWII Vet--10th Mountain Division. They're gone now. For many years I marched in the parade with my Girl Scout Troop. In high school, Allison marched not with the Scouts but with the high school band. Michael marched with his Boy Scout Troop and later with the high school band. Rob and I became spectators, standing up throughout the parade, calling thank yous to the veterans who marched or rode, the volunteer Fire Department, the Police Department, the Scouts--from the littlest Daisy and Tiger to the Seniors—and other volunteer organizations. One idea is crystal clear: the men and women who volunteer to serve in the military are also the men and women who volunteer to serve the community. They swell the ranks of the local organizations that make my town the kind of place in which we wish to live.

I have a shirt my English Department made as a fundraiser after 9/11—flag in front, EMBRACE AMERICA on the back. When our daughter-in-law's sister sent us Iraqi Freedom shirts commemorating her tour in Iraq, we proudly wore them to the parade. A soldier, and now a friend, through AdoptaPlatoon sent us T shirts and visors from Camp Taji in Iraq. Rob and I don one of these when we go to the parade. It's one more way we can show our support and appreciation as the vets pass by. I'm not sure they ever receive sufficient thank yous.

It's sad to see the number of vets dwindle over the years, and many of those who used to walk the parade now are driven. They make sure they are here each year, not to receive appreciative gestures from us, but to remember their fallen buddies who never had the chance to become old men. We join them in this. It's the meaning of Memorial Day. We should never forget. God Bless America.



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