Wednesday, June 7, 2023
<36hd>‘Remember Their Courage, Bravery and Heart’
The threat of rain moved Fairfax City’s annual, Memorial Day ceremony from Old Town Square to inside American Legion Post 177. But the May 29 event, hosted jointly by Post 177 and VFW Post 8469, was heartfelt as the City paid homage to America’s fallen servicemembers.
Giving the invocation was VFW Post 8469 Chaplain Marcus Keiper. “We pray for those who gave their last, full measure of devotion for their country,” he said. “They made the ultimate sacrifice to protect us all.”
Nearly 100 people attended the somber ceremony, including U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th), Del. David Bulova (D-37th), Sen. George Barker (D-39th), Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, Fairfax City Mayor Catherine Read and City Councilmembers Billy Bates, Kate Doyle Feingold and Tom Ross.
Quartermaster Ken LaPlante, of VFW Post 8469, was the emcee. “Memorial Day is the day we honor and remember all the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military and answering the call of the nation,” he said. “Gen. John Logan conceived the idea of a national day [of remembrance] to honor military members who died during the Civil War. His vision was to place flowers and other decorations on their graves.”
Logan chose May 30 because it wasn’t associated with any particular battle, and also because he figured enough spring flowers would be in bloom by then. It was called Decoration Day; and on May 30, 1868, future president James Garfield spoke in Arlington National Cemetery while 5,000 volunteers decorated 20,000 graves.
The name, Memorial Day, wasn’t used until well after WWI. And in 1971, it was declared a national holiday. Now, said LaPlante, many Americans visit cemeteries and memorials, hold parades and do other patriotic activities on this day. “In cemeteries across America and around the world, people will pause their busy lives to place flowers and decorations on the graves of those lost in war,” he said.
Yet Memorial Day shouldn’t just be about sorrow, said LaPlante, but also about giving thanks that such people lived. “As we remember and honor the men and women who gave full measure to protect what we hold dear, let us not forget that it falls to all of us to remember them and carry their memory onward,” he said. “We can never fully repay them for their sacrifices, but we can try by living for what they died for – freedom, equality, opportunity and unlimited promise.”
Next to the podium was Connolly, who explained that, when Decoration Day was first proclaimed in 1865 “and the country was ripped apart by the Civil War – and 650,000 were dead – it meant something to people because they’d been touched by the war personally. People believed this country was worth fighting for, and we began referring to the United States as ‘is,’ not ‘are,’ and ‘indivisible’ – one. It was a war to decide whether free people could make a go of it.”
Connolly also noted that, a few weeks ago, he was at an overseas meeting commemorating the war in Ukraine, and he and others laid a wreath on Gen. George Patton’s grave in Luxembourg.
So, he said, “When we talk about Memorial Day and those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we remember the brave men and women who gave their lives for our Constitution and the freedoms contained therein. One million Americans have given their lives for it, and we should always remember the courage, bravery and heart those men and women had – and all they went through – so we could be here today.”
Next, Del. Bulova related how he and his family had just celebrated his oldest son’s engagement and all the possibilities that lie ahead for him and his fiancé in the future. But, he said, America’s war dead didn’t get to see their own possibilities come true.
“So today, we think of the sacrifices they made, and the memories of a lifetime – being able to grow old together with a loved one and see your children grow up – they never got to have,” said Bulova. “We’re resilient and strong, and we’re bound by the ideal of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness made possible by those who gave up their possibilities for us.”
He said we can also respect their memory by honoring their families. And, he added, “Thank you to those who’ve chosen to follow a [career] path in the military – putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the possibilities we all hold dear. So thank you to the young people for stepping up.”
Sen. Barker reminded people to not forget about war’s lasting effects on the families of the fallen. He spoke of a friend who was “never the same” after her son died in battle. But, said Barker, “She gets comfort on Memorial Day by being at his grave with other Gold Star mothers and remembering him.”
Mayor Read also addressed the crowd, but first acknowledged American Legion Post 177 Commander Jeff White. “Having him step up and provide this post for community events – and make veterans feel welcome here, every day – is really wonderful,” she said.
She then encouraged attendees to also honor the memories of “the people whose lives have been lost due to veteran suicide. We need to remember those who’ve [died afterward] because of battle and keep them in our thoughts.”
Speaking last, White noted that the tradition of putting the American flag at half staff on Memorial Day morning, and raising it to full staff at noon, is a metaphor signifying that it’s both a sad and happy occasion. “In the morning, we’re solemn and remember what happened,” he explained. “And in the afternoon, we enjoy ourselves and raise a glass to those we’ve lost.”
Next, White read the WWI poem by John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields.” Reflecting the voices of soldiers in a graveyard in Belgium, its last two verses are as follows:
“We are the dead. Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields.”
Afterward, Hank Roeder, of VFW Post 8469, played “Taps” on the bugle while everyone stood. Then the names of Fairfax City and County residents who died in wars and acts of aggression, ranging from WWI through 9/11 to today’s war on terrorism, were read aloud as a bell was rung for each one.
In his closing prayer, Chaplain Kuiper asked God to bless “the worthy men and women who gave their best when called to serve. Please bless these veterans and their families and fill their homes with Your strength and love. Bring healing to those who still hurt and help them find peace and happiness in their hearts.”