I am an historian. I majored in I earned a Bachelor of Liberal Arts in History at the University of Houston. I remember coming home from school in 3rd grade back in Sugar Land, Texas and asking my mom why World War II had started. From the point – I was a hooked reader. I could not get enough to read and learn about World War II. The movie, Patton, was in the theaters that year and I remember watching it with my dad at The Palms Theater in Sugar Land. I have watched the movie many times since then and enjoy listening to the soundtrack.
Of all of the days of the year that should count – this is one. I had planned staying home in Wheaton for Memorial Day, but my plans changed. I had really wanted to be in Versailles, Ohio for Memorial Day but I did not make the trip with my family on Friday because of the concern for making my in-laws sick (again) and instead drove to Ohio after the Indy 500. Memorial Day in Versailles is special. It is special in Wheaton and other towns and cities across America, but it is especially so in Versailles. My first Versailles Memorial Day was in 1991 and we continued for many years stopping in 2007 and choosing to stay home when William began marching in the Wheaton parade with his Cub Scout troop. It changed the tradition but not the meaning.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and began as a way of honoring the men who fought for the Union in the Civil War – it was celebrated on May 30th every year. In 1971, the Memorial Day holiday was moved to last Monday in May. As a teacher and a parent, I am concerned that our holidays have become opportunities to make weekend into a short three-day vacation and the purpose of the holiday is lost. We have a generation growing up that does not understand the significance of a national day to reflect and remember. My school district’s days off include Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, President’s Day, and Memorial Day (when school is still in session). I teach in Naperville, I live in Wheaton, and they are served by two different school districts. On Veteran’s Day, the schools in Wheaton are in session. They have a special ceremony where veterans come to the school and share their stories with the students and the students show their gratitude to the veterans. It is day well spent. On Memorial Day, many children take part in the local parade or watch as it passes by. My school’s band marches in the Naperville parade and my family has marched in the Wheaton parade.
Yet, this is not why Memorial Day is so special. My late dad and my father-in-law both served in the military; my father in the marines and my father-in-law in the navy. Both served short terms then returned to civilian life to begin their careers and raise their families. Attending Memorial Day in Versailles has always been followed by a long drive home to Chicago that gives me time to think and reflect about what is happening in my life as well as what is going on in the world. Memorial Day is special because it makes time to reflect what is truly important and ways that I can make the days count for my family and me.
My in-laws have been my family since I married their daughter almost twenty years ago. They have provided us with help, guidance, understanding, patience, and silence over the years. In turn, we have been there for them as well. As they age, they still have a passion for life that inspires me and reminds me how I want to spend my life as a grandpa and what I want to do after I stop teaching – when the times comes. This year’s Memorial Day had been planned by the community as a remembrance of the sacrifice that the World War II veterans had made to their country. A call had been made to the community for all veterans to submit a biography of their service to the local paper – the Versailles Policy and a request that all living WWII veterans take part in the 2010 Memorial Day Parade. Many veterans submitted their stories and they were published in the May 19th edition, others were published on May 26th and June 2nd. My father-in-law would be taking part in the parade, which started at 10.30 and worked its way to Greenlawn Cemetery in Versailles, Ohio.
I delivered Grandpa Weaver and William to the VFW Hall – the stepping off point of the parade. William would be marching in the parade with Troop 79 from Versailles. Beth had arranged this through a friend of hers whose children are active in the troop and suggested that they share council patches. William was armed with several versions of the Three Fries Council patch. I returned to the house and gathered Grandma, Beth, and Olivia. We headed to the cemetery and set up our viewing area. I was worried for Grandma and Grandpa. The weather was hot and sticky, just as Sunday had been, and I was concerned that the event would be too much for them. I set up chairs in the shade and we waited for the parade to make its way to us. As it got closer, I helped Grandma to our seats and we settled in and waited for the program to begin. Each year there is a speech with a patriotic theme; the speaker is from the community. Several years ago, the speaker was a local Ohio legislator who is now a member of Congress. This year’s speaker was the pastor of the Weaver’s church. His speech was good calling on all of us to reflect on the sacrifice of this generation of men and women to our country. He reflected on the meaning and significance of the day and the program shifted to the recognition of the World War II veterans by Dave Miller. Each of the veterans received a marble appreciation plaque. As the presentations began, I turned to Grandma Weaver and asked if she was okay. She replied that she was feeling the heat and it was time to go. I helped her to our car, drove her to the VFW hall, and quickly returned to the ceremony. I returned just in time for the twenty-one gun salute and the concluding remarks. The entire crowd was invited to the VFW hall for a meal served up by the Vets. WHIO-7, the local television station, reported on the event and posted a story that evening – here is the link. Grandpa, William, and Olivia were offered a ride back to the Vets and I drove Beth and my nephew, Alex, back to town. The Vets was crowded and I greeted several folks I had gotten to know over the years – the Bargas, the Holes, and a few others. I checked in with grandma and grandpa, collected my William and Olivia – both of whom had arrived with Grandpa and were eating and we left.
It was a great time and my children took part in it as observers and participants. Though, I am not sure how much they took away from the event: this day, and others, will be part of what they remember about grandma and grandpa and their legacy to us. I am an historian; I have memories built on the books I have read, classes I have taken, and movies and television shows I have watched. These memories are that World War II was a time when a generation answered the call and afterwards came home to raise families and build America. Yet, some did not and this day is dedicated to them. I owe a debt of gratitude to this generation.