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Arlington observes Memorial Day with parade, solemn ceremonies
ARLINGTON Local veterans and their loved ones joined area scouts, students and other civilians on this years observance of Memorial Day, May 28, to commemorate those military members who have given their lives in service to their country.
This years Memorial Day began at 6 a.m. for the city of Arlington when members of Arlington American Legion Post 76 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1561 gathered with volunteers from the community to hang flags along Memorial Way.
After a procession of boy scouts, girl scouts, cub scouts, high school musicians, World War II veterans and police vehicles kicked off the days events with a street parade through downtown Arlington starting at 10 a.m., the Arlington Cemetery hosted an 11 a.m. ceremony to honor the nations fallen veterans.
We bring our daughters down here because we want them to remember how our soldiers have died in defense of their country, said Sid Logan, a 12-year resident of Arlington whose family has attended the Memorial Day parade and ceremony since moving to the town. The great thing about a small town like Arlington is how it comes together for these events.
The Arlington High School Marching Band provided music for the event and, following the posting of the colors at the cemetery and the invocation by American Legion Post 76 Chaplain Dan Dennis, retired Air Force Maj. Mike Blue acted as keynote speaker for the service.
Blue, the senior aerospace science instructor for the Arlington High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, recalled that Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in 1863, when the families of Confederate soldiers in Columbus, Miss., noticed that the graves of Union soldiers in their cemetery had been poorly cared for.
They realized the dead Union soldiers buried nearby were the cherished loved ones of families and communities far away, Blue said. They cleared the tangled brush and mud from these graves, as well as those of their own soldiers, and laid flowers on them.
A New York drugstore owner set the next precedent for Memorial Day in 1866, when he closed his shop on May 5 and suggested to his fellow merchants, in their town of Waterloo, that they do the same, to honor both the Union and the Confederate soldiers who had fallen during the Civil War. Memorial Day was first observed officially in 1882, and it was set aside to remember all of Americas military members who had died in war.
Memorial Day used to be a solemn day of mourning, a sacred day of remembrance to honor those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms, Blue said. You, the city of Arlington, have today lived up to this honored tradition. From the very beginning, our country has faced many tests of courage. Our answer to such tests can be found here in Arlington and in Americas cemeteries across the world, from France to the Philippines.
Blue asked attendees to remember American service members still missing in action in Vietnam, Korea, the Cold War and even World War II, before estimating that more than one million American military members have died in combat since the War for Independence started in 1775.
Each person who died during those conflicts was a loved one, cherished by family and friends, and each one was a loss to the community and to the nation, Blue said. Sadly, many Americans have lost this connection with their history. Too many Americans today view military service as an abstraction, as images seen on television and in movies. For a growing percentage of the American people, Memorial Day has come to mean simply a three-day weekend or a major shopping day. Families still gather for picnics, but for many of them, the patriotic core, the spirit of remembrance, is absent.
As a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, Blue was flying in support of ground troops in Afghanistan in March of 2002 when he received a frantic radio message.
Were taking fire, were taking fire! Blue shouted. I will never forget the feeling of hearing those words. I know some of you can feel those words right now. As the mission crew commander on the Air Force E-3 AWACs, it was up to my crew to do something about it. We called in the available close air support, a pair of Navy F/A-18s. They did their best, but not all of the soldiers made it.
Paul Abramowicz, who served an enlistment in the Navy during the late 1970s, has joined his wife Joanna and daughters Sara and Katheleen in attending Arlingtons Memorial Day observances for the past several years, and he expressed an appreciation for the diverse perspectives presented by each years guest speakers.
Everyone has their own take on what this day means to them, even among the veterans, Abramowicz said. Its good that so many different services have been represented, because every branch of the armed forces has to work together to make things happen.
Jim McNally, a veteran of the Armys 82nd Airborne Division during World War II, had come from his hometown of Ione, Wash., to visit his family in Arlington, and he commended the communitys Memorial Day events.
Few towns even do this anymore, McNally said. Im impressed by the ceremony and the turnout. That high school band was terrific.
America will only be the land of the free as long as it is the home of the brave, Blue said. Now, even more than in recent years, the enduring relevance of Memorial Day should be clearly evident. With two wars underway, in Iraq and the War on Terror, we have no excuse not to remember. This much is owed to the more than 3,600 Americans who have died thus far in Afghanistan and in Iraq.