While the three-day Memorial Day weekend is often observed with barbecues and family gatherings, a crowd of Neosho area residents took some time Monday morning to reflect on the true meaning of the Memorial Day holiday.
With a United States flag raised and blowing in the wind behind them, area veterans and their survivors took turns at the podium telling what Memorial Day means to them, at a service held at Neosho’s IOOF Cemetery.
Rev. Roger A. Wilson, post commander of the American Legion 163, who served as a corporal in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, said Memorial Day is a time to remember, with a heavy heart, those who were lost in service.
“As we place flowers and see the flags across the cemetery, there is a hero at each flag and a story at each marker of a broken heart,” Wilson said.
Wilson said though it seems to many that the country is constantly at war, it is important to note that the sacrifices made in those battles are not without purpose.
“Those that have given their lives did not lose them for nothing,” Wilson said. “We come together to honor all because we have the freedom to do so.”
Rep. Bill Reiboldt, who also served in the United States Army during peacetime, said he knows the opportunities he has had would not be possible without the sacrifices made by those who served before him.
“The older I get and the longer I live, the more I appreciate those who have served,” Reiboldt said. “We honor those Americans who have given their lives on battlefields all over the world.”
Reiboldt told the story of the Hall of Fame Cleveland Indians pitcher Robert “Bullet Bob” Feller, who, at the height of his career in 1941, enlisted in the U.S. Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“He gave all that up because he loved his country,” Reiboldt said.
Reiboldt said, when asked later in life what the highlight of his time in Major League Baseball was, Feller reportedly said it was winning World War II.
“He will always be my hero because he loved his country first,” Reiboldt added.
While Memorial Day is now recognized across the country on the last Monday in May, that hasn’t always been the case, and the day hasn’t always fallen under the same name.
Wes Franklin, member of the Newton County Historical Society, said the practice of gathering to honor those lost in war began just after the Civil War.
At that time it was not a unified day, but independently held observances. The practice continued and in 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic; a Union veterans organization, named May 30 national Decoration Day.
The holiday received a name change in 1967, when Congress declared it Memorial Day. The following year Memorial Day was moved from its traditional date of May 30 to the last Monday in May.
Monday’s service also included Neosho High School Air Force Junior ROTC members, who presented the colors Monday morning, as well as performed the POW/MIA ceremony to honor those lost or taken as prisoners of war.
Ret. Air Force Major Bryce Langley, who serves as one of the advisers for the Neosho R-5 Air Force Junior ROTC program, said it is the values displayed by earlier veterans that he hopes to instill in the ROTC members.
“I admire the excellence, the service and the commitment of those who we are honoring today,” Langley said.