Never forgotten: In some places, Memorial Day is every day

"Memorial Day is when you're actually mourning the people who died trying to save this country," a veteran said. "I don't remember ever in my life partying on Memorial Day."

Memorial Day
Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) place U.S. flags at gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 23, 2024. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)

On the clubhouse wall of American Legion Post 53 in Front Royal, Va., is a photograph of Cpl. Larry E. Smedley along with his Medal of Honor citation. Born in Front Royal and raised in Florida, Cpl. Smedley served as a Marine in Vietnam. While setting up an ambush site near the Danang Complex, his six-man squad encountered 100 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars intent on attacking the base. Under Cpl. Smedley’s direction, his men engaged these assailants. Here is part of his citation:

 “A heavy volume of fire from an enemy machine-gun positioned on the left flank of the squad inflicted several casualties on Cpl. Smedley’s unit. Simultaneously, an enemy rifle grenade exploded nearby, wounding him in the right foot and knocking him to the ground. Cpl. Smedley disregarded this serious injury and valiantly struggled to his feet, shouting words of encouragement to his men. He fearlessly led a charge against the enemy machine-gun emplacement, firing his rifle and throwing grenades, until he was again struck by enemy fire and knocked to the ground. Gravely wounded and weak from loss of blood, he rose and commenced a one-man assault against the enemy position. Although his aggressive and singlehanded attack resulted in the destruction of the machine gun, he was struck in the chest by enemy fire and fell mortally wounded.”

Cpl. Smedley was 18 years old when he died for his country more than 9,000 miles from home.

Honors and memorials

All around American Legion Post 53, other such markers commemorate service, patriotism, and the possible high cost of both.

Two flagpoles — one sporting the U.S. flag and the other the flag of Virginia — stand at the entryway. Below the flags are two statues, of a soldier and a sailor, each of whom holds a small U.S. flag.

The flags of different military branches, flanked by the Stars and Stripes, stand in the assembly hall. The room’s opposite wall holds a reproduction of a painting of the United States’ first commander-in-chief, George Washington. A much-enlarged photograph of World War I doughboys listening while one of their comrades plays an organ in a bombed-out church adorns another wall. Just around the corner is a mural with the silhouettes of a uniformed man and woman saluting a flag, beneath which is inscribed “Freedom Is Never Free.”

The large circular decoration on the wall beside the kitchen is the most striking of all. In this piece, again rendered in silhouette, a weary soldier offers a salute to the grave at his feet. The grave is marked only by a rifle thrust into the ground, upon which balances a helmet. Here the inscription reads: “Never Forgotten.”

Two veterans reflect

Downstairs at the Legion’s clubhouse, James Brinklow sat at the bar. In his mid-80s, he is one of the oldest members of Legion 53, as well as its second vice commander. He served in the Navy from 1956 to 1960.

For him, the day set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the military, particularly those who gave their lives in combat, is sacred.

“Memorial Day is when you’re actually mourning the people who died trying to save this country,” Mr. Brinklow said. “I don’t remember ever in my life partying on Memorial Day.”

He thought for a moment.

“I think they do it a little wrong today,” Mr. Brinklow said. “Everybody parties, like it’s Christmastime. A lot of young people just don’t understand it.”

His nephew Dave Luxemburg, who was visiting from Texas, sat beside him. From 1976 to 1980, he too served in the Navy, a crewman aboard the aircraft carrier USS America, where he learned elevator operation and repair. Immediately after leaving the Navy, Mr. Luxemburg found employment in this field and has since owned and operated several elevator companies.

Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) place U.S. flags at gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 23, 2024. This was the 76th anniversary of Flags In where over 1,500 service members placed more than 260,000 flags at every gravesite and niche column at Arlington National Cemetery. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)

“I look at Memorial Day like a lot of people died for this country,” he said. “That’s what we need to memorialize, the people who served this country and died for it. We can remember the people who went before us.”

As our conversation continued, both uncle and nephew chuckled at their younger selves. Both had disliked formal schooling and were, by their own descriptions, misfits and troublemakers. Both praised the Navy for changing their direction in life. They still feel fraternity with the Navy.

“If you were a Navy guy,” Mr. Luxemburg said, “and you meet a Navy guy, there’s still that comradery.”

Membership in the Legion extends to the sons and daughters of veterans. Dan Remaillard’s 86-year-old father served as a pilot during the Korean War, and today Mr. Remaillard acts as this post’s Adjutant for the Sons of the American Legion. For him, Memorial Day — and all other national holidays — involves hoisting up the sidewalk flags along the town’s Main Street at 6:30 a.m.

“I love putting the flags out,” he said. “People always stop and thank us for that.”

Shrines of the heart

All across the United States are places where the dead of its wars are honored.

Arlington National Cemetery and other military burial grounds are scattered throughout the country. In its community graveyards are interred the men and women who died fighting in wars from the American Revolution to the recent conflicts in the Middle East. In Hawaii, the USS Arizona Memorial commemorates all of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Then there are the memorials that most of us are scarcely aware of.

In American homes, in parlors, entryways, and bedrooms, are shrines of photographs and personal items devoted to loved ones who died for their country — small monuments built of grief, pain, and profound affection. Even absent these physical reminders, in the hearts and minds of their parents, spouses, children, relatives, and friends, these dead live on.

This Memorial Day, let’s pause, just for a moment, and join in remembering with gratitude what Abraham Lincoln called “these honored dead.” Like the members of American Legion Post 53, we can make sure that they are “Never Forgotten.”

This article was originally published at The Epoch Times


Jeff Minick | The Epoch Times

Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va.