Memorial Day was observed across Monroe County and the nation on Monday. It is a day that honors those who have lost their lives in military service to our country, and indeed cemeteries across this county are resting places to veterans of all of our nation’s wars.
It owes its birth to a ceremony in Charleston, S.C. in 1865, when former slaves celebrated it. By 1868, so-called “Decoration Day” was being observed at no fewer than 27 cemeteries across America — a number that burgeoned to 336 observances by the next year. It was first called Memorial Day in 1882, but it wasn’t until 1967 that it was so decreed by federal law.
At least four of these observances were celebrated here Monday – in Valmeyer, Columbia, Waterloo and Hecker. Each location is the final resting place for veterans of nearly every American war.
The Republic-Times assigned reporters to each ceremony in these four communities, and the following is what they recorded.
Similar observances took place in Renault and Dupo.
The featured speaker at Columbia’s Memorial Day ceremony at the American Legion Post 581 Hall on Monday was longtime Immaculate Conception School principal Mike Kish, who spoke about Abraham Lincoln and the “what ifs” of reconstruction after the Civil War, which ended 150 years ago this month.
Kish said Lincoln is recognized as a hero to all of us, and said the late president has more books written about him in the world than anyone else besides Jesus Christ.
“Lincoln gave his life to this country and needs to be remembered on this day,” Kish said.
Kish said Lincoln succeeded through “sheer will and determination” and had a “depth of soul” that made him a man for the ages.
The principal went on to say that, in some ways, this country is still suffering from Lincoln’s assassination. The problem of poverty still exists, Kish said, and race and gender inequalities remain unsettled today.
“The Civil War is not over,” Kish said. “We’re still suffering from it today in many ways.”
Poverty can be overcome by education, Kish added.
“If you love something, you study it and try to make it better,” Kish said.
Kish received a standing ovation for his thought-provoking speech.
Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson welcomed those in attendance and added that in Columbia, the service of veterans is celebrated every day.
Music was provided throughout the program by the Belleville Community Band.
Dustin Row, a U.S. Army veteran of the Iraq War and founder of Songs4Soldiers, was the guest speaker at the program hosted by the American Legion Post 901.
“When I think of Memorial Day, I think of those guys I was with who never got to come home,” Row said.
He was part of an American convoy that was attacked in Iraq. Some friends were killed, his friend and platoon mate Matt Maupin was taken hostage — the first American soldier missing in action during that war. Maupin’s body would not be found and identified for four years.
“Memories are what keep these guys’ (lost soldiers) spirits alive,” Row said.A four-man drill team from Parks Air College performs a demonstration during Monday’s Memorial Day program at St. Augustine Cemetery near Hecker. (Alan Dooley photo)
A welcome by village president Charles Kujawski, flag ceremonies, a fly-over by historic planes, and a roll call of those who have died in service to our country were traditional features of the ceremony at Hecker’s St. Augustine Canterbury Cemetery.
Retired Navy Nurse Corps Commander Maureen Liefer delivered the guest speaker remarks. Liefer told of the significance of the day – remembering those who have given their lives in service to America, which has permitted us to enjoy the freedoms we cherish every day.
Liefer personalized the day by reading letters written by three students to veterans whose deaths were being memorialized, telling how their sacrifices had made life as we know it today possible. One young person even said they planned to take up the call to service at their first opportunity.
Liefer concluded by reading a version of the 23rd Psalm from a recent Disabled Veterans magazine.
Even though local veterans had already paraded and folded a large American flag, an especially touching event was a similar demonstration of flag folding by members of Cub Scout Pack #323. As each of the 13 folds was carefully made, a scout at the podium told of its specific meaning and purpose.
Waterloo American Legion Post 747 featured guest speaker Pat Gauen of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during its Memorial Day program on the courthouse lawn.
Gauen spoke of his days as a young man staying with his Waterloo relatives during the summer months and what a great time it was to live. But he noted that it took the sacrifices of many men and their families to help keep Waterloo the town it is today.
He offered a chilling perspective on the cost of this freedom, stating that in World War II alone, the United States lost 41 times the population of Waterloo. All the wars and conflicts combined have cost the nation the population of Waterloo 123 times over.
He also remembered the brave work of the war correspondents who lost their lives.