Today is a day for us to remember
The following, with a few minor edits to keep it current, was published in 2019 and 2020. The sentiment, however, remains the same.
Last year, we were just starting to open back up after executive orders requiring people to stay at home except for essential business. COVID-19 had taken some lives, but there was much we didn’t know back then.
Now, we have vaccines, with cases falling, more empty hospital beds, and fewer deaths on a day-to-day basis. But as of this writing, more than 2,790 West Virginians have died from COVID-19. Most of these deaths have been people age 60 and older. I’m going to make a safe assumption that many of those deaths are men and women who served our nation.
This Memorial Day, remember all the service members and veterans we’ve lost, whether to combat, old age, or COVID-19.
Today is Memorial Day, when we take time to honor those members of the U.S. Armed Forces who gave the ultimate sacrifice and laid their lives down in combat or who have later died as veterans.
I have a lot of fond memories of Memorial Day weekend growing up in St. Marys. Military service is a rich tradition in my family, which I’ve always appreciated.
My grandfather was a sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps, serving in the North Africa theater during World War II. In order to get to St. Marys to get on the train to report for duty, Lloyd Adams had to take a horse-drawn sled from the Arvilla area on the Tyler/Pleasants County border during a snowstorm. He passed away in 1985 and being a 3-year-old at the time I don’t really have memories of him.
Lloyd fathered 11 children with my grandmother, Doris Adams. My uncle, Lloyd Adams Jr., was known as Bud Adams. He went into the U.S. Marine Corps during Vietnam, along with thousands of young men. He didn’t suffer their same fate.
Instead of fighting Ho Chi Minh, he fought a battle with spinal meningitis and nearly died in a military hospital. After he recovered, he served out the rest of his enlistment in the Marines’ Drum and Bugle Corps. He lived a long life dedicated to serving others and playing music. When he passed away, the entire community came to pay its respects.
My father, Denver Adams, was also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, serving honorably and discharged as a corporal in 1983, bringing his wife and 1-year-old son from California back to his hometown of St. Marys. He’s very much still with us and active with the local AmVets chapter, marching in parades, performing military honors at gravesites and helping with the monthly breakfast.
Growing up, dad was the adjutant of American Legion Post 79 in St. Marys. Memorial Day weekend is a full weekend in St. Marys. Friday and Saturday are dedicated to alumni of St. Marys High School. If you’ve never seen the St. Marys High School Alumni Parade, I highly encourage you to go. I’m convinced there is no community that shows as much pride in itself as St. Marys does. The only thing missing is ticker tape. Sunday is graduation day at SMHS, so in those three days St. Marys pays tribute to the present and future.
But on Monday, Memorial Day, St. Marys pays tribute to its past and to those who have fought for the freedoms that allowed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to happen. It starts with a parade downtown, led by a color guard represented by almost all the branches of the armed forces — Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
Traditionally, they lead the parade to what remains of the Hi Carpenter Bridge, which used to span the Ohio River, but now only connects the mainland to Middle Island. Fun fact: the reason that the full bridge no longer exists is because it had the same design as the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant. The Hi Carpenter Bridge also had the same design flaw that caused the Silver Bridge to collapse. Not taking any risks, the Hi Carpenter Bridge was demolished and years later a new bridge was built a half-mile down the road.
Once the parade gets to the bridge, flowers are thrown into the river and a firing squad shoots off a salute. Then the honor guard, with some members in their 80s, turns around and marches across town to the I.O.O.F. Cemetery for a Memorial Day service and to lower the American Flag to half-staff and play Taps. When I was younger, I’d sometimes have to be the person to lower the flag.
As I’ve gotten older, I have taken Memorial Day for granted. It’s easy to do as an adult. We look forward to the three-day weekend, we sleep in, we grill out, play some softball or cornhole, and we don’t stop to think of those who don’t get to do that.
Those who took a bullet crossing into no man’s land, or stormed a beach in France, who retreated from the Chosin Reservoir, who fought through the Tet Offensive, who were carried from body bags in Lebanon, who fought in the Persian Gulf and continue to fight and die in Afghanistan.
Even those who were able to make it home, to live their lives, work their jobs, start families, and become involved in their communities — do we honor them properly?
Today, there are old men trying to fit back into their uniforms, carrying a flag or a rifle down main street, and paying tribute to friends long past. Not just friends, but people they likely never knew but still wore the uniform and served. They can’t walk as well as they used to. The cadences become harder to hear. The heat can be unbearable for them.
In St. Marys, those veterans will still march. They’ll march down main street, fire their salute at the marina, and march uphill to the other side of town.
They will still march because they still remember. It’s time we remember as well.
(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)