By DAVID GREEN
I'm sure that I've never returned home from a Memorial Day ceremony with streaks of mud on my coat and on the front of my camera bag. That was the wettest Memorial Day ceremony in my memory. I know there have been others in the rain, but none are coming to mind.
I almost drove to the park and the cemetery this morning, but that just wouldn't be right. It would defy tradition. I'm already pushing the limits by bicycling. I used to always walk, or at least walk my bike, but I wanted to get under a tree as quickly as possible.
Every Memorial Day ceremony makes me think of ceremonies past. For example, I arrived at Wakefield Park and didn't see the band around. There's been at least one other year when the school band wasn't present. This time I thought how we have a new band director and maybe no one told him about it. And then I spotted them under a picnic shelter, wisely staying out of the rain.
On my way into the park, I didn't even look around for any golf carts, ATVs, little motorbikes—elements of the Memorial Day parade since I was a kid. I was hoping there weren't any because it becomes an uncomfortable moment. A few years ago the decision was made to change the format from a parade with wailing fire trucks, ATVs doing wheelies, a few business trucks, etc., and instead go with what at Christmas would be called "the reason for the season." It's a solemn occasion, a march of remembrance for those who died while serving in the military—along with giving a nod of appreciation to those who served and survived.
I still hear people talking about how the parade has shrunk to nothing and it's hardly worth going to watch it, but size isn't the point. Of course it's worth going to watch the veterans go by, even if it's all over in three minutes.
I stopped at the old cemetery for photos and watched the procession move right on past me. I forgot that was no longer part of the ritual.
At Oak Grove, I looked at the band and wondered if it will perform "Tequila." That actually happened four or five band directors ago—someone who didn't quite understand the concept. I mentioned that to my wife last night and we both started laughing. It's part of the lore and legend of Morenci. If you weren't there—most likely you weren't there—just picture it in your head. Veterans gathered, dozens of citizens spread around under the oaks listening, flag raising, speeches...and the band plays that song they'd been working on for the spring concert.
I suppose they got to that spot in the song where everyone yelled, "Tequila!"
This was the first Morenci ceremony in a long time not run by Jack Sampson. Jack’s own flag was raised in his honor. Steve Rutkowski did a fine job leading the program, but it will be a while before I stop expecting to see Jack walk to the podium with a smile on his face.
Matt Hewitt was chosen as the speaker, surely one of the youngest we've had. I'm not a flag-waving type—just a quiet citizen of the country—and I wasn't in the military. So many speeches seem to focus on patriotism and express disappointment with what the speaker sees as a lack of it. I liked Matt's talk better than any I can remember.
Dates tell the official beginning and ending of a war, Matt said, but it doesn't really end for those who participated. He spoke of the special rules that are in effect in the homes of many veterans, the homes where blank stares are seen on the faces of those still living a bit of the horrors they witnessed.
"It's no secret to say that war changes people," Matt said, "and war wages on for those still living. That's the sacrifice. With every military funeral, a war has finally ended for another veteran who is finally at peace."
It was wet and it was chilly, but it was a good ceremony with a good-sized crowd standing under their umbrellas. And look on the bright side—no band member passed out in the heat.