by Ev Chase
Celebrating Memorial Day
It wasn't until about a year after going active in the Navy and another year of training in several states that I was assigned to a sea plane squadron in San Diego California. A few months more training and I was assigned to a flight crew in a P5M Martin Marlin - a sea plane. Although I thought I would, I didn't develop the urge to fly.
It was Johnny Godfrey, my brother-in-law, who had that urge.
Johnny, a high school dropout, learned the long way and the hard way to becoming an Air Force jet pilot.
As a GED graduate, he spent the first four years in the Air Force as a mechanic. His next big step was to apply for navigator school, which when completed put him in the back seat of a jet.
About three years later the ambitious young father of three was a lieutenant, flying an F100, seeing the world and lovin' it. But then Vietnam came along.
Knowing how his buddies were being knocked out of the sky with heat-seeking missles over North Vietnam he retrained to a single engine prop job. He told his family the cockpit was surrounded by armor and couldn't be penetrated while flying overhead.
What Johnny kept from them was he could be shot down while diving in or pulling away during a straffing run. Which is what happened while leading a Vietnamese squadron. The family was told he was probably dead when he flew his plane into the ground.
Johnny, this Memorial Day is for you and your thousands of buddies.
Memorial Day, as a celebration in recognition of our fallen military, has faced as many hard times as the people it intends to honor.
The battles over who was the originator of the "Official" Memorial Day" may not yet be settled in many observers minds, but the calendar and a day off seems to rule most of the people who may not be as true to history as others.
As a youngster, I remember Memorial Day and Decoration Day as being synonymous, but to me it meant decorating the graves of soldiers on Memorial Day. Therein uncovering the route of the synonym.
We all have a way of celebrating our holidays and as we mature and face our own personal experiences we begin to understand their deeper meaning.
While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.
It is more likely it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860s tapped into the general human need to honor our dead.
It is not important who was the first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established.
One account discussing the origin of this National holiday was born out of compassion and empathy in 1863.
"As the Civil War raged, grieving mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and other loved ones were cleaning the graves of Confederate soldiers in Columbus, Mississippi.
While placing flowers on their own soldiers' graves, they noticed the nearby union soldiers' graves were dusty and overgrown with weeds.
Grieving for their own fallen soldiers, the Confederate women understood that the dead union soldiers who were buried nearby were the cherished loved ones of families and communities far away. They cleared the tangled brush and mud from those graves as well as their own soldiers' graves and laid flowers on them too."
That gesture of healing and reconciliation became Decoration Day honoring all soldiers killed in the Civil War, both Union and Conferderate.
Sixteen years later, in 1882, the nation observed its first official Memorial Day. A day set aside to remember and honor the sacrifice of those who died in all our nation's wars.
The following story coming out of the north, Boalsburg Pennsylvania, features a different accout of the origins of Memorial Day - I quote in part.
"It was this day (a pleasant Sunday in October of 1863) that a pretty, young teen-age girl, Emma Hunter by name, and her friend, Sophie Keller, chose to gather some garden flowers to place on the grave of her father, Dr. Reuben Hunter, a surgeon in the Union Army, who died only a short while before. And it was this very same day an older woman, a Mrs. Elizabeth Meyer, elected to strew flowers on the grave of her son Amos, who as a private in the ranks, had fallen on the last day of battle at Gettysburg.
And so the two with their friend met, kneeling figures at nearby graves. A young girl honoring her officer father, a young mother paying respects to her enlisted-man son, each with a basket of flowers which she had picked with loving hands. And they got to talking. The mother proudly told the girl what a fine young man her son had been, how he had dropped his farm duties and enlisted in the Union Army at the outbreak of the war, and how bravely he had fought.
These two women had found in their common grief a common bond as they knelt together in that little burial ground in Central Pennsylvania.
As it happened these two women were participating in their first Memorial Day Service. For as the story goes, before the two women left each other that Sunday in October, 1864, they had agreed to meet again on the same day the following year in order to honor not only their own two loved ones, but others who now might have no one left to kneel at their lonely graves.
When they met the following year on the appointed day, all Boalsburg was gathered and every grave in the little cemetery was decorated with flowers and flags; not a single one was neglected."