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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

MEMORIAL DAY IN SMALL TOWN AMERICA

flying the flag on Memorial Day
Memorial Day, 2012
Memorial Day’s unique pause to allow  us time remember and thank our veterans  has always moved me, and I love it here in Warwick, New York where small-town America is thriving. 

In the days prior to the parade, flags are planted on all the graves of Veterans.  152 flags.  The Veterans of Foreign Wars used to do this on their own, but their members are now quite elderly, and a few years ago they enlisted the help of the Boy and Girl Scouts.  Older Scouts help them place the flags, one for every known Veteran from all wars, walking from grave to grave in the town’s two cemeteries.  I am sure that in the process of placing those flags, the young people develop a rapport with the older men, and the discussions and examples are lasting.  The day before Memorial Day, Girl Scouts come and plant an area in the Warwick Cemetery with flowers resembling the American Flag. 

People come about an hour early to get ready for the parade with their chairs and flags, and they line Warwick’s Main Street, past the beautiful and elegant Victorian homes that pick up where the shopping area ends, past the Warwick Country Club, right to the stone arch of the entrance to the cemetery.
Policeman saluting Veterans & the Flag
Rob and I have our chairs staked out in the shade of a tree up by the club so we can quickly put them in the car’s trunk and head to the service in the cemetery as soon as the parade passes by.  We, like everyone around us, stand as the different groups go by.  We applaud; we call out “Thank You.”  We watch the policeman charged with stopping traffic flow as he salutes the vets and the flag as they pass by.
Our Heros, the Veterans


Veterans Our parade is headed by veterans of the different branches.  One local family, the Stewarts, had men of several generations serving, but time has passed, and I think only one Stewart was in this year’s parade.

American Legion Veterans
Our active VFW and American Legion are in the parade too, but these days most of them are driven.  It’s too much of a walk when you’re in your 70s, 80s or 90s.  The stalwart Commander of the VFW, however, walks the route.  Later in the cemetery he addresses the Scouts and explains the meaning of the day in a wonderful speech.  A tractor pulls a big cart filled with seated veterans and the VFW Auxiliary—the wives of these men. 
Veterans


High School Band The Warwick High School Band plays as they march, and they play "The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” during the cemetery services.

Many of Warwick’s organizations have contingents in the parade, but the largest is the Scouts.  There are many active Girl and Boy Scout troops bringing young Tiger and Daisy Scouts all the way up through the ranks to Eagle and Gold Award. 

Veterans Firemen
One of the most impressive contingents is the volunteer firemen.  The same impulse, perhaps, that leads men and women to serve their country also leads them to serve their communities.  Following them are the shiny fire trucks.

The volunteer Ambulance Corps follows with its shiny ambulances.  Young leaders, The Junior EMS program members from Warwick High School, are out in force.
Warwick Valley High School's Junior EMS


One person missing since last year is Carolyn Lesando.  She is a Gold Star mother whose son was killed in Vietnam.  Because of age, she now lives with her daughter, and thank God there is no one to take her place. 

Gettysburg Address
The parade continues first to the Warwick Cemetery and then to St. Stephens Cemetery.  The service in the Warwick Cemetery includes a Boy Scout reading “The Gettysburg Address” and a Girl Scout reading the history of “Taps.” 

The story of "Taps"
Some politicians speak, but one, the Honorable Peter Barlet, talks about our freedoms and how these men and women we honor today keep them for us.  No government makes us serve.  No government makes us vote.  No government makes us be charitable.  We have the freedom to choose.  But because those freedoms are fought for, the best way to honor those veterans, living and dead, is to serve and to vote and to be charitable.  Use those freedoms. Then those who died defending them will not have died in vain.  These are splendid truths.

The Veterans and a member of the Women’s Auxiliary lay their wreaths with aid from young Scouts, and it is touching to see these young people’s profiles juxtaposed with the elderly bend down to lay each wreath. Then the young and old salute together.

VFW Taps & Scouts
Following a three-round salute from higher up and away from the crowd, a lone bugler, high school student Ben Bisaro, plays “Taps.” 

The crowd disperses, some to do more “fun” activities on Memorial Day as we do at a friend’s barbecue, and some to follow the parade as it continues to St. Stephens Cemetery to honor the dead there.  No matter how people proceed through the day, the events, emotions, and understanding follow. 

This is small town America.  It is thriving.

To view my past Warwick Memorial Days, follow these links: http://thirdagetraveler.blogspot.com/2009/05/americas-small-towns-reflect-memorial.html
Patriotism
Patriotism

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