Memorial Day no picnic for Dover-area veterans and families

 

DOVER — Memorial Day is perhaps the perfect reminder that serving in a branch of the United States’ military is no picnic.

That’s why hundreds of veterans and their loved ones gathered at Memorial Day ceremonies around Dover on Monday to honor and reflect on those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in battle for the United States.

Poignant ceremonies for soldiers who died in battles were held by the Delaware Veterans Inc. Post 2 and American Legion Walter L. Fox Post 2, and by the Kent County Chapter 850 Vietnam Veterans of America in observance of Memorial Day. There was also a ceremony held at Sharon Hill Cemetery.

Persistent rain moved two of the events indoors as the Delaware Veterans Inc. Post 2 was held at the Fox Post 2 building on Pear Street. It also moved the Vietnam Veterans of America Ceremony to the Robbin’s Hose Fire Co. in downtown Dover.

“It makes you proud to be an American,” said Nancy Simpson, who displayed a wreath with the Daughters of the American Revolution at Fox Post 2. “I was impressed with so much that was done during the ceremonies – the dignity of the Dover Air Force Base Color Guard, the 21-gun salute, just everything.

“I’m still always bothered by one thing. Why do people say ‘Happy Memorial Day?’ I still can’t figure out why people say that. It’s a respectful occasion, certainly not a happy one.”

Col. D. Scott Durham, commander of the 512th Airlift Command, U.S. Air Force Reserve, served as the guest speaker at the Fox Post 2 ceremony and gave a history lesson to the crowd about why the country has Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day before World War I.

“President Franklin Roosevelt said, ‘Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy, forget in time that men have died for us to win,’” Col. Durham said. “With the hectic lives that we lead today it may be easy to think of Memorial Day as merely another holiday weekend.

“It’s much more than that. And now, never in our nation’s history have so few protected the freedoms and liberty of some many.”

Col. Durham said Memorial Day is all about numbers – and those that were lost. The count of those soldiers, he said, matters.

“We as a nation do count,” said Col. Durham.

He stated that America lost more than 25,000 soldiers in the Revolutionary War, more than half a million of its own perished during the Civil War, 525,000 died in World Wars I and II, 54,000 were lost in Korea, more than 90,000 in Vietnam and more than 8,000 soldiers have died in battle since 9/11.

“We count,” Col. Durham said. “This day is not for the living. This day is solely for those who have died. Today our nation is at war still, once again, hitting our most precious resources – our sons and daughters – in a global fight against enemies whose fanatical ideals threaten all of civilization and our very way of life.”

And so the veterans came, many now wrinkled with the passage of time. They came to remember the ultimate sacrifice that so many have paid for the country’s freedom and way of life. They came to display wreaths and memorials, giving time-honored salutes to their fellow soldiers.

David Curnock, the commander of Delaware Veterans Post 2, said that a remarkable 336 Dover-area veterans have died over the past year. Their names were recited over about a 10-minute period. Twenty-one wreaths were displayed and saluted at Post 2.

Col. Durham was also quick to point out that the poignancy of Memorial Day is something that is not just reserved for the final Monday in May for many who serve at Dover Air Force Base at the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center.

“Dover now holds a special place in the history of our nation,” he said. “Not only as the capital of the First State, but now anytime a service member falls as a result of combat operations he or she is returned to the United States via Dover Air Force Base.

“This sacred work, this duty, and this is where the sole U.S. Mortuary Affairs is located and is responsible for returning soldiers to their final resting place. The dignity, honor and respect that we give to our fallen and their families is our way to give our service members a final display of respect as they are prepared for their last journey home with their families.”

Edward Hawkins, who served for more than three years in the Navy, was taken aback when Col. Durham said that only 0.7 percent, or two million people, currently serve on active duty or in the National Guard or the five reserve components out of the nation’s population of more than 322 million.

“I was moved to hear from the colonel how many people there are in the United States compared to the number of people who are serving in this country,” Mr. Hawkins said. “I’m a supporter of veterans and I thank them for what they do every day.

“Memorial Day means there are thousands of people who died to protect this country and we’re very, very grateful to them for the service that they gave.”

Many more veterans attended the Kent County Chapter 850 Vietnam Veterans of America ceremony at the Robbin’s Hose Fire Co. on Monday afternoon.

Marine Lt. Col. George Malone served as the keynote speaker and talked about what it meant to be a part of the U.S. armed forces.

“God bless those who have given their lives to make our country strong and to those who stand and fight for it today,” Lt. Col. Malone said.

He challenged the younger generation.

“You are the heroes of tomorrow,” Lt. Col. Malone said. “One day you might be called to make the ultimate sacrifice. And let’s not forget the sacrifices made by their families.”

One of the more inspiring events of the day took place at the conclusion of the Kent County Chapter 850 Vietnam Veterans event. That’s when a Vulcan motorcycle was pushed into the fire station and presented to Chaplain Mike Snyder.

It was the motorcycle that Snyder’s sister-in-law was killed on after she was struck by a drunk driver several years ago. It sat in a barn for 12 years and was recently refurbished by the Vietnam Veterans of America State Council.

“I had no idea whatsoever this was happening,” Mr. Snyder said. “This is something I had put on the backburner for several years because other things were more important. I’ll ride this for her.

“This has been quite a Memorial Day, reflecting on everything else and now this, that’s for sure.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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