Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day: Remembering & Saying Thank You

Being Mayor of Canby has brought me some great experiences so far in this first six months: Welcoming at the Iwo Jima World War II Memorial; Introducing Abraham Lincoln at the library for it's Civil War series; meeting with county officials to move some of our city projects forward, long meetings about Libraries and several others. Monday brought another one:  I had the honor and privilege of welcoming guests to the Memorial Day Services held at Zion Memorial Cemetery here in Canby.

I do not know how those of you will take this blog post.  Those that know me will see this as another example of me wearing my heart on my sleeve on an emotional day.  Others may read this and think it is just another politician politicizing a key event.  Take this as you may.  This has become a somber day for me as of late.
Memorial Day in Canby, Oregon
Photo care of the Canby Herald
Growing up, I remember the family get togethers and BBQs at various family homes over the years.  I cannot recall that I truly knew what the day was about.  I may have been told that it was to remember the people that had passed away and were no longer with us.  I do not fault or think that someone should have pulled me aside and said "Hey, pay attention!  This is more about remembering those that give you freedom, not BBQ chicken and hot dogs!".

Both my Grandfathers served in the military.  Harold Hodson was in the Army and James Vlach was in the Navy.  Uncles and cousins have and are serving.  Friends have served.  Fathers of friends have served.  Thank you seems to be all I can say and yet it doesn't seem to say enough.

Admittedly, my new appreciation for Memorial Day, along with my continued love for the 4th of July, is about an overall appreciation for where we live and what this country stands for.  I think some call this Patriotism.  I would call it that.

My appreciation for this day is relatively new, from about 2 years ago really.  I had the opportunity to drive my Grandfather through Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.  Upon entering I was in awe by the powerful image of thousands of American flags.  Big ones, small ones - thousands.  Simply amazing, a sight to see!  You may say "Mr. Mayor, it looks like this at every cemetery across the country today", but I had not experienced this before.

As we drove through, my Grandpa remembered where every family member and friend was buried.  He told some anecdotes of friends and we lingered on family members.  I hung on every single word.  I wanted more time to listen to more stories.  With my Grandpa being almost 96 and myself having three children in school, I may not be able to make it there to tour with him on a Memorial Day again.  Though I have that memory of that day two Memorial Days ago.

That memory flooded back to me this past Monday.  To be there honoring those that served was humbling.  I met three gentlemen that were in WWII.  One was a Marine, spent his entire enlisted time in the South Pacific.  I could not shake enough hands and say 'Thank You'.  They wanted to thank me for being there and I could not accept it.

When the ceremony ended and the crowds cleared away, I walked about five rows of head stones.  Flowers adorned most, yet not all.  There were husbands and wives, children, some had entire families.  It was quiet, except for the sound of the flags being whipped by the light breeze and the gentle crunch of gravel under the few cars coming through.  I walked back to my car and called my Grandpa back in Cleveland.  With a little choke to my voice and welling eyes, I left him a message that simply said - "I was thinking of you, and Grandma, and of the day.  I wanted to tell you I love you and thank you".  It did not seem to be enough to say.

Here is my welcome speech from Monday May 27th 2013.  The italicized portion was omitted due to time and the tremendous amount of rain that was falling on the attendees:

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome to American Legion Post 122, Memorial Day Observance and Service. 

Thank you to Carl Coffman, Commander of American Legion Post 122, for inviting me to be a part of these Memorial Services.  I am honored to be involved in this day of remembrance.

Several years ago I had the honor to visit Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio with my Grandfather on Memorial Day.  As we drove the roadways through the cemetery I was moved to a different level of appreciation of what I have because of the men and women who fought for what freedoms I have.

Row upon row of small flags lined the headstones; many were adorned with flowers and other signs of remembrance.  Neatly and meticulously placed, they all celebrated life, said we do not forget you, and thank you.

As I drove my Grandfather around, he knew where everyone was laid to rest – Grandparents, Parents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins, Nieces and Nephews, and many friends that he has outlived.  They span two World Wars, himself a Navy man in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. 

I am in awe of the men and women who have and do sacrifice for the freedom of the United States of America and their families that support them.  It is bravery that is unmatched.

Our nation is free because of brave Americans like these, who volunteer to confront our adversaries abroad so we do not have to face them here at home. Our nation
mourns the loss of our men and women in uniform and we must honor them, more often than we do.  Today we pray that those who lie here have found peace with God, and we resolve that their sacrifice will always be remembered by a grateful city and nation. 

We must also not let their efforts be in vain.  We can honor them best by showing our vigilance and commitment to community here in our own cities.  Find an hour a week or month to give back to your community or hold your elected officials at every level accountable to “We the people…” and us, the citizens.  This how we remain a great nation, and a model for other countries to strive for.

In a little bit we will hear music and lyrics that we have heard many times, our National Anthem.  President Ronald Reagan in a Memorial Day speech said – “I can't claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don't know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does: Does that flag still wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? That is what we must all ask”.

May God bless our fallen heroes, those serving here and abroad, you all in attendance, your families, the city of Canby, and our Great Country.  Thank you and God Bless.

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