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May 31, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Memorial Day 2010 in Staunton

Staunton excels in a number of ways, and paying tribute to past and present members of the U.S. armed forces is near the top of the list. Once again, this morning's ceremonies marking Memorial Day were full of fitting speeches, musical pieces, and solemn wreath-presenting rituals. Ray Houser was the Master of Ceremonies, Rev. Joel Thornton of Bethel Presbyterian Church gave the memorial address, and the Stonewall Brigade Band played a variety of songs, from "America the Beautiful" to "The Entertainer." American Legion Post 13 presented the colors, and co-sponsored the event, along with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2216. The weather was nearly perfect,

Somehow I missed the Memorial Day ceremonies last year, but I did attend in 2008, 2007, and 2006.

Staunton National Cemetery

In the afternoon, I paid a visit to the Staunton National Cemetery, and spent some time looking at the grave markers. It's always a shock to realize what a high proportion of war fatalities were never identified in wars prior to the 20th Century. Nearly 70 percent of the interments (for some gravestones, there are two or three buried bodies) are listed simply as "Unknown," as the text on the plaque reproduced below attests:

United States
National Military Cemetery
Established 1867.
Interments 753.
Known 232.
Unknown 521.
Staunton National Cemetery

Grave markers at Staunton National Cemetery

Those photos, and others, have been posted on the new Military photo gallery page, which includes parades, warplanes, ships, etc.

WWII vet remembers

At this morning's ceremonies, I saw an elderly former neighbor of mine sitting in the front row, and I made a point to visit him later in the afternoon. His name is Richard McLaughlin, and he served with the 106th Cavalry Regiment in Europe during World War II. (He was in the Veterans Day parade photo montage that I posted in November 2007, the gentleman on the right side not wearing a cap.) We had talked about his military career before, and how his unit was fighting not far from the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

Today Mr. McLaughlin told me that he once saw General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Third Army, drive by his unit in a jeep as they were advancing into Germany. Most of the local residents were old, since all the younger males had already been drafted into the Wehrmacht (or recruited by the SS), so there was no significant threat to U.S. soldiers from the German populace. The 106th Cav pushed through Bavaria in April 1945, and reached Austria at the end of the war in early May 1945, after which they carried out occupation and pacification duties. One of their tasks was to guard Belgian King Leopold, who had made the controversial decision to remain with his people after the Germans conquered Belgium in May 1940. To some people, he was a collaborator, and he had to be protected from death threats. McLaughlin later relocated from Salzburg to Vienna, where he experienced opera and fine arts for the first time. Because of all the American, British, and Canadian soldiers who sacrificed their lives on the beaches of Normandy, freedom -- and civilization itself -- were restored in Europe.

Honoring William Green

Later in the day, I drove past the National Guard Armory, home of the headquarters company of the 116th Brigade Combat Team. I noticed a monument placed in honor of William Green, a Staunton native who was one of the "Tuskegee Airmen" of World War II. They were the only African-American fighter pilots of that war, and their heroism and patriotic devotion helped pave the way for the integration of the U.S. military after World War II. As it says in the plaque, Capt. Green was shot down over Yugoslavia, but survived and joined the partisan forces of Josep Broz Tito, who became leader of Yugoslavia after the war. Green later received military honors from the government of Yugoslavia.

William Green monument

Monument honoring William Green, in Staunton. The aircraft pictured on the stone is a P-51 Mustang.

Those photos, and others, have been posted on the new Military photo gallery page, which includes parades, warplanes, ships, etc.

Local fallen soldiers

Steve Kijak made a highly visible gesture of respect and thanks for the three local members of the armed services who gave their lives during the war in Iraq: He put up three American flags on each side of the bridge that crosses over Interstate 81 on the north side of Verona. All three of the servicemen were Marine Lance Corporals:

Faces of the Fallen

Every couple months or so, the Washington Post prints two or three pages filled with photos of U.S. military personnel who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I always save them, but you can also look at the "Faces of the Fallen" at It reminds you that those are not just numbers, they are real people with families and friends.

Memorial Day off?

The question of what is the most appropriate way to observe Memorial Day was addressed by Katherine Turner in a letter that was published in Sunday's News Leader. (She is a professor at Mary Baldwin College and the wife of my good friend Matthew Poteat.) She took issue with people who have complained about school being held on Memorial Day, which was one of the snow makeup days. I wholeheartedly agree with her that giving everyone a day off to lounge around probably doesn't carry much meaning as far as honoring the sacrifices of the generations before us.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 01 Jun 2010, 1: 46 AM

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