All day long yesterday, it seemed that something was missing.
Memorial Day is so much more than the traditional beginning of summer. Our family always looks forward to going to the Clinton County Veterans Memorial for the reading of the names of veterans who are having their personalized bricks dedicated as part of the memorial. We then walk up to the American Legion Post to watch them lineup the parade.
For several years, while I served as an elected official, I was honored to ride in the parade to Sugar Grove Cemetery and to participate as a speaker. Now that I am a civilian, Debbie and I drive out to Sugar Grove Cemetery with our lawn chairs and stake out a prime location to listen to the speakers.
Memorial Day has changed significantly over the years.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, it was a day set aside to decorate the graves of those soldiers who died during that war. In 1971, the last Monday in May was proclaimed to be a nationally recognized holiday — Memorial Day. It is still meant to recognize and honor those veterans who died during their service to our country, but many families, like ours, also take time on Memorial Day to decorate the graves of family and friends.
We also now use Memorial Day to recognize and honor all our veterans and active military, not just those who died. That is a good thing.
Here in Clinton County we have been taught the acronym HOME – Honor Our Military Everyday. It was first suggested by Jennifer Woodland in 2013 as part of her project for Leadership Clinton. Jen’s project was the development of an amazing day, filled with honors for our veterans. Since then, Jen has become a point-person for projects honoring our veterans in many different ways.
A drive to the east side of town now becomes an emotional experience as veteran’s banners line the streets. Last year, one of my dear friends, Mike Lee, died.
During his last months we talked about everything. He was immensely proud of his naval military service during the Vietnam war. He was even more proud of his son’s service in the Navy. David is now a Master Chief on one of our nuclear submarines. I offered to arrange for banners for Mike and David to be included in the annual display. Mike loved the idea.
It only took one phone call to Jen to set it up. She even arranged that they would be displayed together. This year, you can see their banner near the East End Elementary school. Mike has family ties that stretch from Connecticut to Hawaii. They all love seeing photos of their military banners posted on Facebook.
I love seeing all those fresh, young faces on display in our community. There is a new face on display this year. My granddaughter, Amanda Riley, is an active member of the Navy and has been assigned to serve on the aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Every time we drive past Aldi’s I blow her a kiss and tell her I love her. As I drive past McDonald’s, I always tell my boys, Josh and Danny, that I love them. A banner of my father-in-law Vaughn Reynolds, a WWII Army veteran, is posted near Kroger.
Debbie and I always say, “Hi, Vaughn,” as we turn into the grocery.
A few years ago, the Honor Flight project that focuses on providing flights for veterans from Clinton County to Washington D.C., was brought to our community. Several people were involved in the project including Jack Powell, Fred Ertel, Paul Butler, and several others.
Of course, Jen Woodland took that opportunity to continue her passion for honoring our veterans. Honor Flight is an amazing experience for the local veterans and companions who accompany them.
Jen is right. We should honor our veterans every day, not just on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, or the Fourth of July. We should honor our military every day.
This year, since most of us continue to shelter in place and maintain proper social distancing, I would encourage everyone to drive through the eastside of Wilmington and look at the veteran’s banners.
Many of them are so handsome they look like matinee movie stars. Their pictures have frozen them in that time of life when they were youthful, vibrant, and alive. That is how we choose to remember them.
Also, stop by Courthouse Square. Visit the Clinton County Veterans Memorial. Take a lawn chair and take the time to sit and read those letters from our veterans.
Many letters were written a lifetime ago. They came during the Civil war, during basic training, during every war and even after escaping from a POW camp.
Take time to look at the original artwork that represents our local veterans as they served us in the military.
As always, every day, honor our veterans. Thank them for their service.
Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.