Edgar County remembers
Many people see Memorial Day as time off work, the start of summer, big sales and a reason for a cookout. There are a few who still honor the somber purpose of the day by remembering Americans who gave their lives defending freedom and liberty.
Here is a roundup of Memorial Day programs in Edgar County.
“We gather here openly to celebrate freedom,” said the Rev. Jack Hoffman opening the Memorial Day service in Paris.
He reminded the crowd the freedoms Americans enjoy was attained through sacrifice.
“God instilled in and created us with attributes that drove men of all color and creeds to stand for liberty,” Hoffman said. “May God bless this generation with awareness and gratitude of heart.”
Hoffman turned the service over to Paris American Legion Commander Jim Robison. “It’s a blessing for me and a blessing for you to have these individuals,” Robison said of the town’s veterans before thanking and honoring them for their service.
Robison spoke about all of the men and women who sacrificed their lives in pursuit of freedom in battles fought throughout the nation’s history.
“We are together across the nation to remember our fallen,” Robison said. “Each grave speaks to us. We are their legacy.”
After the Paris High School Band played the national anthem, Robison drew the audience’s attention to the lyrics, noting the anthem opens and ends with a question. The first is if we can see the flag and the closing
question seeks to know if the flag still waves.
Robison reminded everyone, the answer to the questions posed in The Star-Spangled Banner is yes, thanks to those honored on Memorial Day.
Hoffman led a concluding prayer, releasing the crowd with the words, “may freedom be shouted out from every home and every courthouse in America.”
A short service, prayer and moment of silence followed in Edgar Cemetery after the program on the square.
The Brocton American Legion along with the Oakland Veterans of Foreign Wars held a joint Memorial Day service 11 a.m., Monday, May 28, at the Brocton American Legion.
At least 50 people attended the outdoor ceremony where speaker Danny Briseno shared thoughts on Memorial Day and what it should mean to all Americans.
Briseno, president of the Edgar County Historical Society, said Americans should not forget the ultimate sacrifice of Edgar County residents who gave their lives in service for our freedoms. These include George Francis Clark, killed at Pearl Harbor on the Arizona; Shawna Morrisey in the Iraq War; and Robert Willoughby, for whom the Brocton Legion Post is named, killed during World War II. Brocton also had four young men killed in the Korean War.
Memorial Day, Briseno said, is not a day to be taken lightly and every day should be a memorial for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Briseno mentioned his own parents, Opal and Peter, who encountered their own sacrifices while his father was in the service for 11 years and during the Vietnam War.
This is the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day. It was started on the recommendation of General John A. Logan, Decatur, who, as the first commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), called for a day of devotion honoring the dead of the Civil War. The GAR was an organization for Union veterans.
Taps were played ending the service at Brocton and a wreath was laid at the Legion memorial flagpole.
A small group gathered at 11 a.m. Monday, May 28, in the Chrisman city park to remember and honor sacrifices made to preserve the country.
The simple and brief program featured a prayer by Bill Brinkley, Deborah Hale singing the national anthem, remarks by Rick Jenness and the playing of taps.
Jenness recounted examples of Americans who lost their lives in different places and different times in an ongoing struggle to protect liberty.
“Regardless of the place or the war fought, the purity of their sacrifice is without question,” said Jenness. “Young men and women lost their lives in order to make the freedom of others possible.”
He added more than one million Americans have died in war since the American Revolution.
“The heroes that we remember today are not exclusive to any gender, race or religion,” Jenness said. “They are a diverse group wedded to the common principle that America is a nation worth dying for.”
Jenness noted while Memorial Day programs laud the bravery and willingness to sacrifice of those who have served and are serving in the Armed Forces, the loss is never abstract.
“We also extend our gratitude and support for a group that nobody wants to join, but has already given their country so much, the Gold Star Families,” said Jenness. “We observe Memorial Day every year. These families remember their fallen loved one every day. Children without parents, Gold Star mothers and fathers, spouses and siblings can still hear the voices of those that they lost.”
Memorial Day in Hume is a major event. Before the 11 a.m. program starts, the Hometown Band plays a concert of patriotic music and the band also performs a couple of interludes between speakers.
Hume American Legion Post member Bob Denbo served as master of ceremonies introducing those who had speaking parts in the program, and he conducted the Post Everlasting ceremony reading the names of those who died in the preceding year. Denbo noted the Hume Legion Post has only two World War II veterans left. Both men are in their 90s, have frail health and reside in nursing homes.
Ray Coombes provided the opening and closing prayers. Post Commander Sean Gerberding welcomed the crowd, and auxiliary members Paula Smith and Linda Witt discussed what the auxiliary does.
Special guest vocalist Dawn Stone sang the national anthem for the flag raising and also performed “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” during the program.
Guest speaker Natt Flicisky remarked it is impressive to see the large number of people in a small community like Hume turning out for a Memorial Day program.
Flicisky’s speech focused on the importance of service and commitment to a cause greater than self.
His grandfather lied about his age to enlist during World War I and later three of the man’s sons served during World War II, with one shot down and killed.
Flicisky joined the Navy when he came of age.
“I thought that would be a good way to get out of Vietnam,” he said. “As a result, I spent 18 months there.”
The Navy experience opened his eyes to a bigger world. He explained the ideals of America have a broad appeal and he served in the Navy with Filipinos who, despite not being from the U.S., were helping defend the country.
Flicisky sadly noted during the century between World War I and the present, the U.S. has been almost constantly engaged in war. He said it is appropriate to remember veterans who served, but with the changing times there are others who also deserve honoring.
“We should honor not only veterans, living and dead, but also the first responders who keep us safe and teachers who are now a line of defense for our children,” he said.
Flicisky worked for the Department of Veterans of Affairs for 40 years and learned much through oral history from veterans stretching back to the Spanish-American War. He said there was one constant in their stories.
“They didn’t consider themselves as heroes, but they believed they served in the company of heroes,” said Flicisky.
Following the program in Grafton Park, the group moved to Young America Cemetery for a concluding ceremony involving the playing of taps and a three-volley salute for the veterans buried at that location.
(Gary Henry, Bethanny Lawson and Ruth Patchett contributed to this story.)