By Tiffany Cooke
As the Salem Square’s bells rang eleven strokes, the Washington County Scouts lowered the Crown Hill Cemetery American flag to half-staff, commencing the annual Memorial Day Program.
Members of Washington County gathered near the cemetery gates Monday morning in observance and remembrance of veterans, current service members, and the fallen.
For many, it was more than just an event to fill their morning. The service specifically honored members of Washington County, meaning for many, it was personal.
The schedule of events included a group pledge and prayer, attendance of the flag, placing of the wreaths, a message from a guest speaker, roll call of deceased veterans accompanied by a Scout-led drum roll, a firing squad, color guard, and taps.
First Sargent Brett Walters of Indianapolis, former Salem High School graduate and current Indiana State Trooper, spoke in tribute. During his service, he held every position outside of infantry and received many awards of honor.
Walters spoke in heartache for those who are fighting, those who are lost, those who are missing, and those who are living without.
“No matter how much time has passed, it will never fill the hole they have left,” he said.
To date, there are still 1,589 missing soldiers that haven’t been brought back home. Fifty-one of these are Indiana natives. Walters also mentioned that in the war on terrorism, 9 people of Indiana died in Iraq, and 57 in Afghanistan.
In the roll call of Washington County veterans who died since last Memorial Day, there were 86 names read. One of these names was Martin Barrett, father to Sheila Jackson, who tearfully observed the program with her sister and nephew.
“The whole thing is emotional. My family is very patriotic and pro-American,” Jackson said.
Before arriving at the cemetery, Jackson watched a veteran on the news who played the National Anthem on the harmonica. When her father’s name was read though, she felt a new kind of sorrow. She came to honor and remember him, and it moved her to see others doing the same.
“I appreciate living in Washington County because the community – the church, the public, the veterans – all come to honor the day,” Jackson said. “It makes it more special.”
Both Jackson and Walters voiced concerns on how the holiday’s purpose may be overlooked. They worry that with the parties and picnics, people will forget to remember why they’re free to have this day.
“Memorial Day has come to mean a 3-day weekend and excuse to shop,” Walters said. “The spirit of remembrance is absent.”
Still, those who attended the program took a moment to be together as a community to honor the courageous individuals who sacrificed their time – and their lives – for freedom. Many veterans came dressed in their old attire, young boys wore hats in spirit, and families embraced and exchanged tearful smiles.
Veterans of the Foreign Wars Post, the American Legion Post, and the Ladies of the American Legion and Daughters of the American Revolution all attended and played a role in the ceremony.
As the taps call faded to silence and the ceremony concluded, attendees were encouraged to meet for fellowship and comfort for a free lunch given in honor of their fallen comrades.