Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Speech - 2006

Grave of Samuel Ellenberger
Member of Co. D, 98 Regiment, PA Infantry
Ross Cemetery
Many places claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. In Pennsylvania, the town of Boalsburg is one of those places that calls itself the birthplace of the day now set aside for honoring those who have served. Besides Boalsburg, twenty-three other communities lay claim to being the first place to celebrate Memorial Day. Despite the conflicting claims, in May 1966 President Lyndon Johnson settled the debate by declaring Waterloo, New York as the "official" birthplace of Memorial Day.

While many people have forgotten the origins and the traditions of Memorial Day, some places still take the time to honor the dead who have served our country. Originally the celebration was to honor those who fought in the Civil War, it has adapted to remember all soldiers who have served in all wars.

A while back I had the privilege of serving at Ross United Methodist Church, a small church at the junction of Marengo and West Gatesburg Roads. One of the honors while serving there was taking part in the annual Memorial Day Service.

The small congregation of Ross United Methodist Church continues the tradition of decorating the graves of those who fought. Traditionally, the women of the church have met on the Saturday before Memorial Day to prepare flower bouquets that will decorate the graves of those soldiers buried in the Ross Cemetery. On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the local VFW comes to the cemetery and the flowers are placed on the graves of the soldiers, followed by the firing of a salute and the playing of Taps.

In honor of our soldiers who have served over the years, I want to share a speech delivered in 2006 at the Memorial Day Service at Ross United Methodist Church.

Grave of Michael Rhodes
Co. H, & Regiment PA Volunteers
Ross Cemetery
I want to thank-you for coming out this beautiful morning to join with the congregation of the Ross United Methodist Church. This morning we pause from our busy everyday lives to decorate the graves of those who have served and lie on this sacred piece of ground.

I'm honored that I've been asked to share a couple words with you this morning as a part of the annual Memorial Day Celebration here at the Ross Church and Cemetery.

Many places call themselves the birthplace of Memorial Day. From Charleston, South Carolina to Columbus, Mississippi from just down the road in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania to Waterloo, New York - the "official" birthplace of Memorial Day - all of them have claimed to be the first to decorate the graves of the fallen Civil War soldiers.

Newspapers from the late 1860s suggest that Confederate widows were the first to decorate the graves of the fallen and this took place before the end of the war. The story goes that while the Civil War raged on, a small group of grieving women - mothers, wives, daughter, sisters and other loved ones - were cleaning the graves of their recently fallen Confederate soldiers in Friendship Cemetery at Columbus, Mississippi to place flowers upon those graves. While cleaning the graves of the Confederate soldiers, they noticed nearby a number of graves belonging to Union soldiers that were overgrown with weeds. Grieving their own fallen, the women understood that these Union soldiers were the cherished loved ones of families and communities far away. They cleaned the lots, along with their own, and placed flowers upon the graves of the Union soldiers.

The tradition of decorating the graves of the Civil War dead quickly spread throughout the communities of the northern and southern states. The idea of honoring the dead on both sides of the great conflict was a gesture of healing and reconciliation in a land ripped apart by war.

Sadly, the day set aside to remember the fallen dead has been forgotten by the younger generations. The parades that celebrated our soldiers who fought and sacrificed for our freedoms have been silent and no longer fill the streets. The graves of those who have served are forgotten and often not decorated with flowers. The ceremonies celebrating and honoring the dead have been pushed aside as people go about their everyday lives. In short, Memorial Day has become just another day for many.

But in the small towns of America, the day has not been forgotten; the dead who have served are remembered and still honored. Taps are still played and the honor guard still fires salute.

That is why we are gathered here this day. We come to celebrate and remember the lives of those who have served in all wars. The flowers have been placed on the graves of those who answered when their country called them. They have given their all to ensure the freedoms we to often take for granted.

We gather to remember our brothers, our forefathers, our friends, and our loved ones. They served to defend our nation and ensure the freedoms we enjoy every day.

In all honesty, the words I say this day will probably be forgotten by the time you get home, but the deeds of these servicemen - these loved ones - buried here on this sacred piece of ground will never be forgotten.

Thank you for joining us and I ask that you would please remove your hats as we have a moment of silence followed by a salute to those who served followed by the playing of Taps.

John Wrye
I was unable to determine which
Civil War Unit he served
This Memorial Day, amid the busy schedules of this weekend, I ask that you take a moment and remember those who have served this country to allow you the freedoms we all celebrate..

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