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Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, here in the good old USA, we honor and salute those who died while serving in the US Military.

It originated as Decoration Day to salute those who died during the Civil War and, of course, included both Union and Confederate troops, because both sides were Americans (in spite of what the Yankees think). For the record it is on Veterans Day that we salute all who have served in the military; Memorial Day is for those fallen in battle.

When I was a kid the big event on Memorial Day was the Indy 500 race, which we listened to on the radio, before it became a TV thing. It was a pretty big deal to me because I was growing up in Farmington, NM and the famous (and Indy 500 winning) Unser brothers were from Albuquerque. For those in Rio Linda and those up east, New Mexico is one of the United States. Even has its own star in the flag.

Back then, Memorial Day was on May 31, actually. Now it is on a designated Monday at the end of May, so we can have more three-day-weekends.

Today, most of the sporting events (including the Indy 500 and the Charlotte/Coca-Cola 600) have moved to Sunday and the Memorial Day Monday is for coming home from the lake and special sales at the mall and the Ford dealership. It is also for a few picnics and family and political gatherings.

Several years ago, on Memorial Day I found myself working in Iowa, USA and driving through the hamlet of DeWitt. I passed an American Legion-manned hot dog and bratwurst stand with dozens of folks partaking. I made a U-turn and proceeded to sample the fare. For two bucks I was served my first and delicious brat on a hot dog bun with chips and a coke for one dollar more. The servers were WWII vets about 80 years old and they were also serving those who had participated in the just-ended parade (for free). Something backward about this – others should have been serving the vets. But the vets were having a ball putting the hot dogs and brat dogs together. They were moving pretty slowly but still had a twinkle in their eyes. God bless them.

Here I was in by-God middle-America celebrating Memorial Day and loving it.

On Memorial Day I will trek 25 miles north of Dallas to Pecan Grove Cemetery in McKinney, Texas. There the fire department, the police department, civil war re-in-actors, the Boy Scouts and a few politicians will honor those who died in service to America. The McKinney High School Band will play the National Anthem and a WWII vintage AT-6 will perform a solo fly-over. The fire department bag pipers will play Amazing Grace. The fire chief will call an honor roll of two veterans from each war who are buried in Pecan Grove, after each name a somber bell is tolled and a few tears are shed. A horse with no rider, but a boot in a stirrup is walked past the review stand while the trumpeter plays Taps and there is a 21 gun salute with Civil War rifles. A few more tears are shed.

You can imagine the emotion that swept over me a few Memorial Days ago, when the following name was called: Colonel Robert A. Forte’, US Air Force, World War II and Korea. A few more tears were shed.

There are hundreds of vets buried in Pecan Grove and the Boy Scouts place an American flag (or a Confederate flag, depending) on the grave of each soldier, sailor and airman. After the ceremony and after the barbeque is served by the Boy Scouts many of the graves are visited by some of the three or four hundred who have gathered to honor them.

I always go to the Forte’ plot for a visit. Buried there are my grandparents, two aunts, an uncle (whom I considered to be my best buddy and who died when I was 12), my sister, my mother and my dad. I visit them all, pay my respects, remember the good times, ask for forgiveness, say a few prayers. Then I stand at the foot of Colonel Forte’s grave and I say a prayer. Then I salute him and the American flag.

Then I shed a few tears and head back to Dallas.


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