The tradition of honoring those who died in service to their country can be traced to May 1866, when residents of Waterloo, N.Y., decorated the grave sites of their Civil War dead.
Today, 152 years as a national time of remembrance of those who gave their lives during all of America’s wars, Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day, is commemorated throughout the country.
On Monday morning under threatening skies, some 250 Villagers gathered at Veterans Memorial Park in The Villages to remember and reflect.
Congressman Daniel Webster, the event’s guest speaker, talked about how protecting freedom often exacts the ultimate sacrifice.
“From the first days of our nation’s history, brave American men and women have been willing to step forward and make that sacrifice,” he said. “On this Memorial Day, we are comforted by the heritage of courage they established for us, and we are sobered as we recall their sacrifice. These courageous soldiers – each different in heritage and background – shared the common bonds of the armed forces: duty and sacrifice. Each of them was willing to look past race, religion, economic status, regional pride and other differences.”
Webster said what remained was the essence of the American soldier – the fighting spirit of a proud, courageous people. He added that those soldiers chose to stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder, to pay the price for freedom.
“Since the Revolutionary War, more than 44 million Americans have served in America’s military,” Webster said. “More than one million Americans – including thousands of Floridians – have given their lives in combat.”
Webster said it’s important to remember those brave soldiers as we look to the future and remember the past.
“In today’s world, freedom comes cloaked in uncertainty. America still relies on her sons and daughters to defend her liberty,” he said. “The cost of independence remains high, but we must be willing to pay it. We do not pay it casually, but with profound reverence and thanks to those who have sacrificed their lives for America.”
Webster’s words weren’t lost on VMP Chaplin Tom Miller, who served in Vietnam in 1967-68. He wears a bracelet of three beaded strands that reflect the green, yellow and red stripes of the Vietnam Veteran Ribbon.
“Every day, this reminds me of my three friends who were killed in combat. They never made it past their 20th birthdays,” he said. “One, my roommate, died after being in Vietnam for less than two weeks.”
The Memorial Day program featured somber musical selections from the Sounds of Scotland bagpipers, the singing of the national anthem and “God Bless America” by 14-year-old Cheyenne Rose; the recitation of “The Letter: The Answer Written” by Tiffany Little, daughter of VMP President Richard Simpson; and the traditional presentation of a memorial wreath by the VMP Honor Guard.
For Harold Sievers, VMP’s president emeritus who helped found the organization in 1998, Monday’s ceremony was a time to think about the military contributions of his family members and the present day’s acceptance of America’s servicemen and women.
“My father landed on Omaha Beach during D-Day, and my brother served in Korea. I was there from 1952 to 1956,” he said. “I also am pleased that the stigma of servicemembers of Vietnam is over. Now, I see youngsters thanking them for their service – something unheard of 50 years ago. For me, today’s ceremony helps bring these events full circle. It’s been a labor of love.”