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The Men Held Their Hats Over Their Hearts as the Flag Passed By

Sixty years ago Memorial Day was celebrated as a solemn event in small town America.

Sheryl McCulloch, of Saginaw, a member of the American Legion Post 22, places an American flag on a veteran's grave in the military section of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Saginaw, Mich., Tuesday, May 21, 2013. Each year, volunteers from the post decorate veterans' graves in Saginaw cemeteries for Memorial Day. The state Senate just voted in favor of a law to require these flags be American made. (AP/The Saginaw News/MLive.com, Jeff Schrier)

We would always mow the grass around the graves of departed loved ones on the weekend before Memorial Day. We wanted it to look nice because the ceremony would end at the cemetery.

Others might take note if we didn't seem to care. The gravesites were decorated mostly with plastic flowers, but there were some fresh flowers too. And there were flags. I never got over my awareness of how many men that little town of 800 people had given to war. Some were decorated heroes.

Memorial Day was an important event in Deer River, Minnesota in the 1940’s and 50’s. Our cousins would come to town from the farm. Neighbors' children and grandchildren would join us for the "kids' parade." I was the drummer. My "drum" was usually used to cook meals in and it worked equally well for both purposes.

WATERBURY, CT - MAY 26: Children watch as the Memorial Day Parade passes on May 26, 2013 in Waterbury, Connecticut. Memorial Day is a federal holiday in America and has been celebrated since the end of the Civil War. Waterbury, once a thriving industrial city with one of the largest brass manufacturing bases in the world, has suffered economically in recent decades as manufacturing jobs have left the area. Credit: Getty Images Children watch as the Memorial Day Parade passes on May 26, 2013 in Waterbury, Connecticut. Memorial Day is a federal holiday in America and has been celebrated since the end of the Civil War. Waterbury, once a thriving industrial city with one of the largest brass manufacturing bases in the world, has suffered economically in recent decades as manufacturing jobs have left the area. Credit: Getty Images

We wore Red, White and Blue and marched all the way down the street past the Nelson's to Mrs. Harju's house and then back. It was about a block each way. Parents and grandparents applauded.

It never rained on Memorial Day. It was warm too. I think that was because the "big" parade that would come at 11:00 a.m. was too important an event to be called off on account of the weather.

Veterans carrying the flag led that parade. They were followed by the high school band playing a Sousa march.

As the flag passed there was a hush among the bystanders and men removed their hats and placed them over their hearts. Some former soldiers who were not marching would salute. Little boys usually saluted too. It was a very serious moment.

Boy Scouts marched. Girl Scouts too. The Gold Star Mothers rode in a car. They proudly displayed large hand-made stars on their dress made of gold foil and they wore a corsage.

Then came the contingents from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion. They carried old carbines that wouldn't shoot anymore and their uniforms were strained to the limit over enlarged bellies. They were not in step, but no one commented on their precision.

american flags at veterans gravesSheryl McCulloch, of Saginaw, a member of the American Legion Post 22, places an American flag on a veteran's grave in the military section of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Saginaw, Mich., Tuesday, May 21, 2013. Each year, volunteers from the post decorate veterans' graves in Saginaw cemeteries for Memorial Day. The state Senate just voted in favor of a law to require these flags be American made. (AP/The Saginaw News/MLive.com, Jeff Schrier)

The parade ended at the Memorial Arena. The entire town would file in and take seats. The Gold Star Mothers sat in reserved seats in the front. The Minnesota State Auditor was from Deer River and he always arranged for us to have a speaker. He may have been a third level bureaucrat from the Forestry Department, but in that auditorium on that day, he was important. He talked about patriotism and freedom.

After the speech everyone drove out to the cemetery for a solemn assembly. Grown men would pause solemnly before the graves with the flags and offer silent prayers. Then the preacher and the priest would pray together for the souls of those whom we gathered that day to memorialize.

Children knew they were in the midst of something very important. Then, heads bowed, taps would sound from out of the woods.

Sixty years ago Americans looked at themselves and liked what they saw. They were proud. There were things in which Americans believed so strongly that they were willing to die so that others may have them too. We are correct to pause on this special day and honor their sacrifice.

John Linder served in Congress for 18 years from Georgia. He and his wife, Lynne, have retired to a farm in Northeast Mississippi. He can be contacted at: linderje@yahoo.com

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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