Honoring the sacrifice of soldiers
UNION GROVE — On Memorial Day, the thoughts of most Americans generally turn to picnics and the unofficial start of summer instead of attending ceremonies to honor the nation’s war dead.
But a shift is occurring, according to Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Jamie L Binion, engineering instructor at the Center for Naval Engineering in Great Lakes, Ill.
During a Memorial Day ceremony Sunday at the Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Union Grove, Binion said Americans are becoming more aware of the sacrifices of American soldiers fighting around the world, and they’re attending remembrance services.
“I am not sure when the shift began, if it was lessons we learned from the way we treated our soldiers from Vietnam or to our current battles in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, “or if it is the influence of newer war movies — but something has changed about the way we think of our heroes.”
Memorial Day began after the Civil War as Decoration Day, a ceremony to place flowers on the graves of those who had given the last full measure of devotion in America’s bloodiest war.
“Over 5,000 people helped decorate graves in remembrance and honor of our soldiers who had given the greatest sacrifice,” he said, “It was a torch passed through the communities, through the generations, and kept burning brightly, and we continue to do this today.”
While our nation has erected physical monuments dedicated to remembering those who died in service to our country, Binion reminded the overflowing audience that not only are the memorials and services important, but it is equally important to remember our living veterans each day.
“Are there things you can do, such as assist families who are grieving the loss of a son or daughter in war?” he said. “Or visit an injured soldier, or a veteran in a veterans home.
“We need to learn their stories, and they are more than the 20-second sound bites we might see on television. We need to find ways to keep their memories alive and give them proper honor for their sacrifices. Pay homage to them, and treat them with reverence and respect, and others will follow.”
Sunday’s ceremony included music by the Milwaukee American Legion Band and Celtic Nations Pipe and Drums, the presence of several veterans organizations and state representatives and several speakers.
There was also a remembrance table, which served as a haunting awareness that the fate of many soldiers is still unknown.
Sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans of America, Wisconsin Chapter 767, the small isolated table was set with a white tablecloth in remembrance of the purity of the soldiers as they went to serve their country. Five place settings represented the five branches of the military.
The chairs sat as bare as the soldier’s feet. The bread plate contained a lemon indicating the bitterness the soldiers must feel at being left behind, and salt on the plate symbolized the tears shed by the families as they await the fate of their loved ones.
The glasses were dry as the lips of the soldiers are dry. A red rose in the crystal vase symbolized the love the families and their fellow comrades have for these soldiers, and the black ribbon on the vase provided the crystal-clear message that the veterans organizations will not rest until the country receives a fair and accurate account of those prisoners of war and missing in action.
Veterans dabbed at their eyes rimmed with tears as they were reminded that freedom is never really free, and the fate of their fellow comrades may never be known.
“We have soldiers who are lost but not forgotten,” Binion said. “God bless America and all who serve our country.”