Mayoral Musing: Memorial Day Program

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Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly

On Monday, let us leave politics and policy behind as we honor our fallen heroes.

In case you’ve been focused on other things lately, I want to take this opportunity to offer a gentle reminder that Memorial Day is coming up on Monday, May 28. It’s been 45 years since we’ve had a draft so perhaps it is worth mentioning to the younger folks among us that Memorial Day is celebrated to remember military service members who died serving in the line of duty.

I say this because, as a country with an all-volunteer military force, it is all too easy for our wars and armed conflicts to remain out of sight and out of mind. This wasn’t always the case; a common draft ensured that a cross-section of families was acutely aware of military service, and of the ultimate price that might be paid in serving. Today, many live their lives without much thought for those who have died in service to our country.

Memorial Day calls us to remember. In Bridgeton, this will include a program to honor World War I veterans at the Broad Street Cemetery. This year’s program will have its own poignancy because it is the 100th anniversary of “the war to end all wars.” The program will begin at 12 noon courtesy of the Broad Street Cemetery Association and the Friends of Old Broad Street Church.

The day will begin at 9 a.m. with the flag being lowered to half-staff at the Grand Army of the Republic memorial at the corner of West Avenue and Broad Street. At noon, the flag will be raised from half-staff to full-staff, which is protocol for the day. There will be a noontime picnic at the Broad Street Church and those attending are asked to bring whatever lunch they desire. During the picnic, members of the Broad Street Cemetery Association and the Friends of Old Broad Street Church will provide information about the church and the exhibits.

At 12:45 p.m., the program inside the church will begin. I am grateful to be able to take part in the day’s observances and will be giving brief remarks entitled “What the Flag Means to Me.” Should any fall asleep during my talk—always a possibility—Stanger’s WWI Band will perform songs from the era. The program will also include World War I stories and stories of our local veterans.

At 2 p.m., there will be a roll call of the 57 World War I veterans buried at the Broad Street Cemetery and we will have the privilege of having some of those names read by relatives of some of the veterans. Beyond that, there will be an unfurling of a 20x30-foot flag by Eugene Hough of the Heritage Flag Memorial Ceremony Project.

The day’s activities will come to a close at 3 p.m. with the Mead-Woodward VFW Post 1795 Honor Guard gun salute followed by the firing of the Model 1848 Mt. Howitzer by Vietnam Veteran Steve Osborn, and Taps by Mr. Lou Guinta. It will be a poignant day and I suspect that at some point during the day, I will think of World War II veteran Warren Robinson and the fact that he is missed in this community.

I encourage everyone to come out and participate, to learn, to be moved. This is an opportunity to get your thoughts into a space that will allow for reflection on what it means to serve and the price of our freedoms, liberties, and way of life—something these fallen died protecting and ensuring.

For some, getting into this mental space can be hard because in our polarized political climate, it has become difficult to separate policies from the people charged with carrying out the policy. This has resulted in a line of thought that implies that any criticism of the policy, (i.e., whether or not we should be in Iraq or Afghanistan), is the equivalent of not supporting or honoring the troops, active or otherwise.

Separating the policy from the soldier will allow us to properly recognize and honor the individual and the sacrifices he or she makes even if we should find ourselves questioning the wisdom of civilian elected officials at the highest levels of government. When we fail at separating the two, some bad scar tissue is the result.

So let us leave politics and policy behind and honor our fallen heroes. They answered when called and their sacrifice was real, pure, honest, and extraordinarily personal. Our response to them should be the same.

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