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Vets host Memorial Day ceremonies
June 03, 2016 Frank Marquez   

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Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen NBCNebraska reporter Chelsea Irizarry interviews Veterans of Foreign Wars commander Sal Franco on Memorial Day, May 30, at Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery.

Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery on the western outskirts of Scottsbluff was a solemn backdrop for one of three local Memorial Day ceremonies on Monday.

Two others took place at Fairview Cemetery earlier in the day, and the Veterans Home in Scottsbluff later in the afternoon. Gering’s Westlawn Cemetery held its ceremony on Sunday morning.

Master of Ceremony, Army veteran, and Commander of Scotts Bluff County Chapter 10 of the Disabled American Veterans Sal Franco, introduced a slate of speakers including Chris Wolf, the Director of the Upward Bound Program at Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff, who delivered the keynote address.

Franco, who served for 23 years from 1987-2010 as the Post or District Commander of the VFW on Scottsbluff-Gering Highway, said, “there’s a lot of apathy in the U.S. We have holidays, but the rest of the year, it’s no big deal. If we get more people to close their businesses, that might change. When I was a young man, we had big parades. Not anymore.”

The small gathering at the cemetery included Morrill High School student 16-year-old Abby Sinner, who added to the nearly hour-long program by singing the National Anthem, “Amazing Grace,” and “God Bless the U.S.A.” She was joined by her family who sat in the grass in front of a blue awning flanked by a VFW banner and Old Glory. American flags reportedly decorated each one of the roughly 600 grave sites of veterans buried at the cemetery.

In her address, Wolf said, “Most of you know our story. Our son (James) died serving in Iraq in 2003. It’s hard to believe almost 13 years have gone by. In some ways it seems like forever, in some ways it feels like it just happened yesterday … While it isn’t the main topic of conversation, some (veterans at the college) have shared their experiences and about those they lost. It’s a private thing, and I feel honored they trust in me to share those memories, and emotions.”

During her speech, Wolf also told how students’ veterans organization placed a battle cross in front of the campus building which houses the Upward Bound office – “a beautiful monument” – at the base of the flag pole. “It’s a constant reminder to all who walk past it, the price for freedom,” she said.

In thanking the community for their love and support during good and bad times, Wolf related how she and a friend visited a cemetery the previous night; she saw coins placed at headstones, noting their special meaning on such a day, and bringing to mind the long-held tradition. “A penny means someone was here. A nickel means you trained at boot camp together. The dime means you served together in some capacity. By leaving a quarter, you told the family, you were with the service member when they were killed,” she said. “Their memory will continue to live. However, it is our responsibility to teach future generations of Americans about our fallen heroes. … The heroes we honor today will never be forgotten.”

Memorial Day extends from Decoration Day, which was officially observed after the Civil War in 1868. During and after the war, loved ones decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at public ceremonies.

Not to be confused with Veterans Day on Nov. 11, Memorial Day is observed every year on the last Monday of May.

Every year on the holiday, families and friends visit the more than a million service members who have died in wars dating back to our nation’s independence.

Though there are several competing accounts of where Memorial Day originated, at the ceremony on Monday, Jay Eberhart, a member of the VFW, said, the holiday “was born of compassion and empathy in 1863, during the Civil War. Grieving mothers, daughters and others were cleaning Confederate soldiers graves in Columbus, Mississippi., placing flowers on them. They noticed the Union soldiers’ graves, dusty, overgrown with weeds, grieving for their own, the women understood the Union soldiers’ families were far away, and cleared the graves of mud and debris, and placed flowers on them, too.”

Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971.
Traditionally, it is a day set aside to honor those service men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Like many ceremonies across the nation, rendered honors included laying wreathes and bouquets of flowers, and the playing of Taps.

Though there persists a common lament that Americans have lost connection with the true meaning of the holiday observance by merely attending local business sales, and picnics during the weekend, several of the day’s speakers said the presence of the small gathering at Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery proved many of our service members did not die in vain, and that their survivors are further willing to teach future generations about the importance of taking the day to say thank you.

“You are making a difference,” Eberhart said. “For those of us who understand the importance of this day. If you ask, what makes an ordinary citizen serve his country? The answer is values – loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.”
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