UTICA — On a day with flags at half-staff in honor of veterans and servicemen and women every where, residents of Utica gathered at the American Legion Post No. 92 with words and songs of reverence on Memorial Day.
Community members gathered in love and support of the country’s servicemen and women. The service opened with the raising of the American flag and the playing of the national anthem by the Utica High School Marching Band. Words of prayer and admiration were given in honor of veterans and those still in service.
Sgt. Raymond Wolf of the 211th Maintenance Company, Ohio Army National Guard, spoke on behalf of the Utica Ladies Auxiliary on the definition of a veteran.
“A veteran — whether active duty, retired, national guard or reserve — is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America, for an amount of ‘up to, and including, my life,’” he said.
“It’s an honor [to be here] and to honor those that came before us. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here,” said Wolf.
The history and importance of Memorial Day was spoken of by the keynote speaker, Chief Warrent Officer 2 Jennifer Hickman of the 371st Sustainment Brigade, Ohio Army National Guard. She returned April 18 from deployment in Iraq, and said she was glad to be asked to be a part of the event.
“Abraham Lincoln stated that any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure,” she said. “The observance of Memorial Day was borne of compassion and empathy in 1863. As the Civil War raged, grieving mothers and daughters were clearing and placing flowers on confederate soldiers graves. They looked over and saw that the union soldiers graves were being neglected and understood that these union soldiers were also someone’s loved one. They took the time and cleared the tangled brush and mud, and placed flowers upon the union soldiers graves as well as their own confederate soldiers.
“And from that day the tradition spread,” said Hickman. “In 1882 the nation observed its first official Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember and honor the sacrifices of all the soldiers that died.”
The American Legion Post honor guard gave a rifle salute and the color guard held the flags in honor of fallen comrades.
Sgt. 1st Class James F. Hawke of the 211th Maintenance Company, Ohio Army National Guard, was also at the service. His father, James R. Hawke, is commander of the Utica American Legion Post; Sgt. Hawke said he felt honored he could be there to be a part of the Memorial Day service.
“It’s an honor and an amazing feeling to see all the people come out,” he said. “This is a tightknit community here and they are very supportive, and they have done so much [for us]. ... And it is a reminder of how many people are so thankful for what we do. It’s an honor to serve, and now we get a chance to reflect upon it each year on Memorial Day and be reminded of what we do [to support our country].”
Some veterans can remember when Memorial Day was held in higher regard by more members of the community, and, although times have changed, veterans hope to see more people heedful of its importance.
“I think [Memorial Day is] getting better,” said Bill Britton, a member of the honor guard and a veteran of the U.S Air Force. “I think the public is becoming more aware of what [Memorial Day] is all about. ... In years past, it’s been pretty sad to see people not respecting the flag when it goes by [during parades and such] but now 85 percent stand up in honor and 75 percent take off their hats.”
Pete Conley, also a member of the honor guard, is a veteran of the U.S Navy.
“It’s a sad day for me, but it’s a good day as well,” he said. “I remember a lot of friends that I don’t think about on a daily basis. I kind of wish people would pay more attention to the military and [honor them].
“I think people should be proud of our military and remember our fallen comrades and their families that they left behind — fatherless, motherless children. This day is for them.”