A weekend to remember, 2020 edition

This has been one of the more unique Memorial Day weekends in recent years and likely will remain so for some time to come.

Traditionally I paid my respects by attending the Wicomico County Memorial Day ceremony at the Civic Center but this year that was postponed until further notice thanks to the pandemic. To be honest, though, I was hoping there was some memorial service a little closer to our new home in Sharptown or Laurel anyway.

Instead, we got the day off but, aside from a church service which touched on the subject with patriotic hymns and the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner, it’s been more like a normal weekend. So this is my way of personally reflecting.

The fact that I am here after my dad’s two-year hitch in the military as a pre-Vietnam Army draftee (he was in at about the same time Elvis Presley was, if that gives you an idea) means that he survived his military service. Insofar as I know, I have no ancestors who were killed in battle unless we go back to my grandfather’s generation and no one’s ever spoken about that.

Surely, however, there are families on the other end of the spectrum who may have the misfortune of losing family members each generation thanks to a desire to serve. Whether those family members died making the ultimate sacrifice and saving others despite knowing their demise was impending or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the pain for the surviving family is just as great.

It can be annoying for some to see the constant reminders in some media quarters that we should be grateful that others sacrificed so we could grill our burgers or stand in line waiting to get into Home Depot. But in this time where military casualties are the “dog bites man” story due to the winding down of our foreign military excursions, we can’t forget that there have been other times when our nation was in a hot war not necessarily of our choosing, whether via direct attack or the threat to our freedom-loving allies around the globe. It’s happened before and for all we know it may happen again, although I pray not.

Moreso, however, I pray that the sacrifice of so many is not in vain and that we restore and preserve our shining city on a hill in acknowledgement of their loss and for His glory. God Bless America.

Programming note: my series on Delaware political races resumes tomorrow.

A return to Troopathon

A Memorial Day weekend tradition of mine that’s sadly missed is the Concert for a Random Soldier, which for many years featured a late, lamented friend of mine and her husband as part of the band Semiblind and oftentimes double duty as they also played as an acoustic duo called Dog and Butterfly.

With that event’s demise due to issues with the venue, I thought this could fill the bill as somewhat appropriate for Memorial Day weekend.

It was back in 2008 that I became aware of an event designed to help the morale of our armed forces fighting overseas. And since the event was patterned after the longtime successful Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethons for muscular dystrophy, it was called Troopathon.

Despite a struggling economy, a presidential election where our foreign policy was a key source of debate, and a general weariness of overseas fighting against the irregular forces of radical Islam, the first Troopathon was a huge success, bringing in well over a million dollars that purchased care packages for these overseas trips. It was such a success that they did it again the next year despite the change in administration and shift to a more inward-looking foreign policy. Once again they raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for these care packages.

Over the next few years, they took advantage of coverage from websites like mine to use them as conduits for contributions. For awhile I had a badge on my site telling readers I was a part (small, but nonetheless a part) of a silver-medal winning blog team led by the Hot Air website. I brought it back for a cameo, as you can see below.

Back in the day.

But as the years went by the Troopathon concept became a more modest one. Goals which were once lofty such as $500,000 dissolved to $300,000 and the withdrawal of most of our Iraqi troops allowed people to place this event out of sight and out of mind. Even I pretty much stopped covering this after the 2014 session, as bloggers raised a paltry $600 combined. The last time I mentioned Troopathon was three years ago, when I sheepishly realized I missed the event.

So I was happy to see that Move America Forward (MAF) was still plugging away with trying to support the troops through the one-night telethon, which is scheduled this year for June 28. Instead of having it at a presidential library, as has often been the case over the years, Troopathon 12 will be broadcast from the studios of Newsmax TV, which has partnered with MAF to broadcast their event to cable, making it available in over 60 million households. This year it should eclipse the $6 million mark in total donations.

It’s also interesting to me to ponder if there’s a local angle to this. In the Salisbury area we have an organization called Operation We Care, which also packs troop care packages – about 2,000 a year, according to their website. I suspect these are two separate organizations, but perhaps they could figure out a way to join forces, even if the Operation We Care volunteers do the packaging of the care packages for which Troopathon raised the money.

It turns out that several young men my family knows are in the military now, with at least one or two deployed overseas (although not necessarily in a “hot” theater of operations.) While they (and all other military recruits) are promised long-term benefits for sacrificing their time and efforts in the short-term, it’s good to see people still care enough to back these groups.

While I’d love to see the need for a Troopathon eliminated because our nation has peace through strength, we’re nowhere close to a pax Americana at the moment. Thus, our troops are worth supporting whether it’s through Troopathon or by Operation We Care.

A weekend to remember, 2018 edition

After a one-year hiatus and a whole host of changes, I’m bringing back my coverage of the Memorial Day weekend occurrences.

Last year’s Memorial Day celebration, to me, wasn’t much to write about. It’s not that the ceremony was any different, but to be honest I wasn’t in the mood for taking photos or recording the events. Couple that with the demise of another Memorial Day weekend staple event I enjoyed, the Concert for a Random Soldier, and I suppose I saw no point.

While the CRS is still lamented and missed, this Memorial Day weekend was special nonetheless because Kim’s daughter graduated from high school on Saturday, so we celebrated that fact with friends and family. Yet I didn’t forget to recall those who made the ultimate sacrifice at the Civic Center this morning.

The usual crowd of those who remembered made it a point this morning to be at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center.

More and more of those looking on needed a seat. With the exception of those in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, our veterans are from conflicts that occurred over a quarter-century ago.

I’ve seen the program several times before, so I pretty much have the order of ceremonies down. Longtime MC Tony Sarbanes is still at his task.

Former County Councilman Tony Sarbanes, an Army veteran, continues in his post as host.

We recognize the Gold Star mothers, the veterans who are attending, the committee that annually puts the event together, and elected officials. In recent years, however, the purpose of this table is explained as well.

This is known as America’s White Table. One deviation from the custom (likely because of the chair selected and the POW-MIA flag) is that the chair is supposed to be tilted inward.

After the reciting of branch prayers, and before reading the list of names for each war, which varies from the two local residents lost in Operation Enduring Freedom to the 109 who perished in World War II, this bell is tolled two times, in succession – four rings for each. Since the annual event began in 2002, there have been seven names added to the list, the most recent being SGM Wardell B. Turner three years ago.

SCPO Dave Suiter, USN-Ret. has been tolling this Red Knights Memorial Bell for a number of years now.

We conclude, as always, with the playing of Amazing Grace, laying of a ceremonial wreath, a volley of arms, and Taps. Just try not to get misty-eyed.

Hearing Amazing Grace performed by Matthew Wallace is always a moving portion of the program.

A unit from the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Department gives a nine-gun salute – three rounds of three shots fired.

Tom Hehman emerged from his seat to the side to play Taps.

As an aside, we also had Taps played in our church service Sunday. John Jochum, who is the member of our church who played it for us, has also performed at this event in the past.

The wreath that is laid to remember our fallen. Doing the honor of placing it was Silver Star and Bronze Star recipient William James Byrd, Sr. SFC RET MPC U.S. Army.

The location for the ceremony is a permanently dedicated section in front of our Wicomico County Youth and Civic Center. While it is a fine location for our county, it is far from the most unique location for such a memorial.

Last weekend my wife and I took a mini-vacation to the Shenandoah Valley, with a stop at the Luray Caverns. Near the end of our tour, we were informed about a most unusual feature – the Page County Veterans Memorial, which, like Wicomico County’s, honors their fallen from World War I onward. Our guide explained that, in a county of 28,000 people, the local veterans’ organizations felt there was no better place for a memorial to be seen than at an attraction that draws over a half-million annually. So there it stands.

The Page County Veterans Memorial in Luray Caverns, Virginia.

Aside number two: while the Luray Caverns are nice, I highly recommend visiting the Luray Valley Museum across the road. I could have spent another hour there looking at the pioneer-era to Civil War displays inside the museum.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind my readers that today, Memorial Day, is a day set aside to honor those who perished in battle. Yes, we should express our thanks to veterans as we see them, but that particular ceremony is appropriate for Veteran’s Day in November.

A weekend to remember, 2016 edition

Once again I spent a significant portion of my Memorial Day weekend honoring both the living veterans and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Unlike last year, the vibe was quite a bit different this year due to threatening skies and an occasional rain shower. But the show went on at the eleventh annual Concert for a Random Soldier up in Long Neck, Delaware. I think this is about the eighth or ninth I’ve attended, and it seemed the threat of rain brought the attendance down a bit.

There have been several years where all the rows of picnic tables were full and another few dozen scattered around the perimeter (as Kim and I did for most of the show.) It was a shame that more weren’t there, although the silent auction still seemed to be a moneymaker.

It continues to be the case that the Chad Clifton Foundation is the presenting sponsor and the beneficiary is Guitars for Vets. Chad Clifton is the “random soldier” in question, as he was killed in Iraq in 2005.

With a lot of help, Chad’s mother Terri Clifton has spearheaded the event.

Obviously it’s a tribute to her fallen son, but she also intended the event to increase the awareness for living veterans and assist them as she could through the charity side of it. All of the food, shirts, and silent auction items were donated and the bands volunteered for the gig – many have done so for several consecutive years. (I’m going to cover the latter half of the program in an upcoming Weekend of Local Rock segment.)

But for seven hours the area around Long Neck was rocked and rolled by bands that ranged from acoustic cover artists to those performing the oldies to some heavy metal artists playing great original music. It’s certainly a different style of Memorial Day weekend tradition than the event Kim and I attended this morning.

The somber mood of this annual Wicomico County observance was matched this year by somber weather that forced the event indoors for the first time since I began attending it in 2005. The event program remained pretty much the same except for not being able to lower the colors (usually performed by members of a local JROTC unit) and the honor guard needing to step right outside the door to do the volley of arms.

As you may be able to tell from the photo, something I brought up last year still rings true: this event is being organized and coordinated by an ever-graying generation of soldiers, sailors, and airmen. For most of the last decade, our fighting forces have been the subject of budget cuts, accusations of barbaric acts from the left side of the aisle, and social engineering – all while seeing their mission change on the capricious whims of those in office. There’s still a generation that supports the military, and I don’t think we’re to the nadir of respect for the military those who returned from Vietnam endured.

Yet it’s worth considering that the clear majority of the 191 names on Wicomico County’s list of war fatalities were killed during World War II, and there are precious few of their brothers in arms remaining among us. (If you signed up the day after Pearl Harbor on your eighteenth birthday, you would be 92 years old now.) Korean War veterans are perhaps a decade younger, and those who served in Vietnam are mostly at retirement age. While the sacrifice is a burden to bear for any family that lost a loved one in combat, the simple fact that the death toll from Vietnam is roughly eightfold that of the engagements since means Memorial Day is a little less in mind for the bulk of Americans, even as much as some of us try to goad people into remembering.

So it may be that the ranks of those who are asked to stand because they lost a family member in combat get a little smaller year by year, but those who have gone generations before still deserve to be remembered as if it were yesterday. Let’s remember that for next year.

A time to remember

I have never been to a genealogical site like Ancestry.com to confirm this, but insofar as I know I have no relatives who have perished defending America in battle. I did not serve in the military as I came of age in a time of peace when the draft was unnecessary, while my father was drafted into the Army at the perfect time between Korea and Vietnam. He served his two-year hitch down in Georgia as I recall. Then he came home to Ohio, married my mom, and had three sons so it was lucky for me that he didn’t become someone we would remember on Memorial Day.

Unfortunately, those who were born in different eras may have been touched multiple times. Imagine a family where their boys were born in the late 1890s, making them just the right age to fight the Kaiser in the Great War (World War I.) The survivors come home and have kids in the early 1920s, making them a prime age to go fight Hitler and the Japs in World War II. Those who made it through that war would have had kids right afterward (the earliest Baby Boomers) and the oldest among them were drafted to go to Vietnam. It’s funny – just this evening we ran into an acquaintance whose husband is ill from Agent Orange. Both of them are around 70 years of age, and it reminds us the youngest Vietnam veterans are becoming eligible for Social Security. (They are also the last draftees, as we have featured an all-volunteer military for over 40 years.)

Without glossing over the sacrifices thousands have made in subsequent military operations such as Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Enduring Freedom, and so forth, being so far removed from a major war where everyone was involved and our very existence was at stake – such as World War II – along with the idea of always having the holiday on a Monday, has created a Memorial Day weekend that is more about having the extra day off than about remembering those who died fighting for our freedom. As I noted before, it’s a burden not equally shared among generations, let alone families. Nor is Memorial Day about the living veterans, as they have their own day in November – but those who served likely lost a brother by another mother in conflict, so they are due that measure of respect.

For many years I have attended two events during Memorial Day weekend – the Concert for a Random Soldier held in Long Neck, Delaware, and the local veterans memorial service at our Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. Unfortunately, there is a serious threat of rain and even thunderstorms during both events this year so I hope other arrangements are being made. (While it’s been sweltering and humid on many occasions, I don’t recall it ever raining on the Wicomico County ceremony since I started attending them 11 years ago.) Our family gathering may be forced inside as well.

But somewhere it will be sunny for Memorial Day, and wherever that place is should be reverent in spending the day. Our fallen heroes deserve no less.

WCRC meeting – May 2016

The fact that Memorial Day occurs on a somewhat rare fifth Monday of the month this year provided the WCRC with an “extra” meeting this year, and they took advantage by scheduling something that’s becoming a tradition: the annual Legislative Wrapup. All six Republican members of our local delegation (from Districts 37 and 38) were invited – but thanks to a number of calendar conflicts, only two of them came. It was ladies’ night for the delegation as Delegate Mary Beth Carozza and Senator Addie Eckardt gave their accounts of the recently completed session. (Delegate Chris Adams made the attempt to stop by, but came just after we wrapped up.)

So once we did our usual Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, Eckardt got the meeting underway by praising the state’s $42 billion budget, which needed no new taxes for balance. The reason for this was that the Hogan cabinet was finding more efficiencies in their respective departments, enabling the state to become more business-friendly. One way they were doing this was through fee reduction, although Eckardt noted that some Democrats were fretting that fees were getting too low. Yet the budget allowed for a reduction in the structural deficit and did not feature a BRFA, the omnibus bill where spending mandates are often buried. This year’s spending had “full transparency,” said Addie.

But the push to reduce taxation was one goal of the Augustine Commission, explained Addie. Sadly, the broader tax reform package could not pass thanks to the question of passing a package mandating expanded paid sick leave – despite the fact changes to the earned income tax credit would have helped thousands of working Maryland families that I thought the majority party deigned to represent.

On the other side of that Augustine coin, Addie continued, was the idea of being responsive to constituents; to “change the tenor of government.” This went with a drive to bring things to the county level, as Addie noted “local control is important to me.”

One complaint Eckardt had about the session was the “crusade to get the Red Line back.” It led to the passage of what’s known as the “Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016.” (I call it the “Revenge for Not Funding the Red Line in Baltimore” Act.) While the bill overall is terrible, Eckardt noted it was amended somewhat to give local jurisdictions a little more priority.

And while she was pleased Wicomico County would be receiving an additional $8.7 million from the state for various projects, Addie was more passionate about a series of initiatives to bolster mental health and combat addiction around the state. She was also happy to see the Justice Reinvestment Act pass, which was a bipartisan effort at criminal justice reform. The state was also doing more to address mental and behavioral health, particularly since she claimed later in the evening it took someone who was addicted and incarcerated two years to re-integrate fully. This led to a discussion about what the state and local governments were doing to deal with the issue of homelessness, to which Muir Boda revealed the city of Salisbury would be embarking on a Housing First program modeled after one in the state of Utah.

Between Eckardt’s main presentation and the later discussion about mental and behavioral health issues, we heard Delegate Carozza’s perspective. She began by praising the club for being a group of workers and doers when it came to advocacy, with the optimistic view that “this is our time…Governor Hogan is turning the state around.” But that was a process which would take at least eight years, said Mary Beth. As an aside, she also believed that Kathy Szeliga was “the candidate that can win” the U.S. Senate seat, which would also lay the groundwork for Larry Hogan’s re-election campaign.

Both she and Eckardt, added Carozza, were in the position to support the budget thanks to their respective committees. They could succeed making suggestions for “walling off” funds for supplemental budget proposals, of which there were two or three each year. And while this budget allowed for what Carozza termed “a well-rounded tax package,” only a minor tax break for Northrop Grumman made it through. But the “good news” out of that was that it was making Mike Busch and Mike Miller talk about tax relief, making it a stronger possibility we may see some in 2017.

As for some of her priorities, Carozza was happy to see the bomb threat bill she sponsored make it through the General Assembly in its second try. (A similar proposal was introduced by then-Delegate Mike McDermott in 2013, said Mary Beth.) She commented about how the broad community support, combined with the “sense of urgency” provided by a series of bomb threats making the news earlier this year, allowed the bill to pass easily. Another bill she was happy to shepherd through was the ABLE bill, which allows the disabled to save money for dealing with their medical-related expenses without jeopardizing their means-tested benefits.

She also stressed that killing bad bills was a part of the job as well, citing the defeat of the poultry litter and “farmer’s rights” bills where she praised Delegates Carl Anderton and Charles Otto as they “led the charge” against those measures. Mary Beth also took the unusual step of personally testifying against the assisted suicide bill and worked to amend the sick leave bill to exempt more seasonal employees. On that bill, she predicted “we’re going to see it again next session.”

Even after hearing all that information, we had some business to do, like the treasurer’s report and Central Committee report that Dave Parker delivered. He called the recent state convention the “get over it, people” convention, noting the party seemed pretty well unified afterward. Even local radio host Don Rush had difficulty finding disunity among a group of Republicans who were his guests last Friday, Parker added. On the other hand, “Hillary can’t close the deal” on the Democratic side.

I added my two cents about the convention to his report, pointing out the National Committeeman race was perhaps the biggest bone of contention and that was relatively minor. But the Fall Convention may be interesting because we will be electing a new Chair, and the question is whether it will be someone who will work more for Larry Hogan’s re-election or to bolster the GOP numbers in the General Assembly. A Hogan win, I added, would make redistricting the key focus for the second term – personally, I think we should strive for single-member districts and Eckardt agreed based on its impact to minorities.

Shelli Neal updated us on the Greater Wicomico Republican Women, who would be holding their next meeting June 16 at Adam’s Taphouse. They had two tickets to the Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield to raffle off as part of a membership meeting for the newly-christened organization.

Another fairly new creation was the Wicomico Teenage Republicans, which had “a great start of a club” according to Nate Sansom. While their next meeting was slated for this coming Friday, they planned on taking a summer break and reconvening in August once school started back up. With a group of “passionate people, happy to be involved,” Sansom believed his group would focus on statewide campaigns like Kathy Szeliga’s as well as the local We Decide Wicomico campaign for an elected school board.

Representing the statewide College Republicans, their Chair Patty Miller was hoping to reach each county Central Committee at one of their meetings over the next few months and “see what they need from us.” Her first stop will be this week in Calvert County.

Jim Jester reminded us the Crab Feast would be September 10, but stressed the need for more volunteers – particularly to handle admissions and the silent auction.

Shawn Jester pointed out the WCRC Scholarship winners had a brief story in the Daily Times. But, since the subject was volunteering, he was also looking for people to help out at Third Friday, which we missed this month because no one was available. On that note, a signup sheet was passed around. (We will also need help for upcoming events such as the Wicomico County Fair, Good Beer Festival, and Autumn Wine Festival.)

After all that discussion, and seeing that we had a legislative update where the topic wasn’t addressed, I added one thing to the conversation. General Assembly Democrats sponsored a large number of bills this year that mandated spending. To me, this is an effort to handcuff Larry Hogan when it comes to budgeting but also leaves less room for tax reform. Many of these bills may become law without Hogan’s signature, but they will be law just the same. It’s an issue that I think needs a strategy to address, perhaps a reverse BRFA to eliminate mandates.

We are going to try and get the guys who didn’t show up this month to come to our June meeting, so stay tuned. It will be June 27.

Weekend of local rock volume 64

Last weekend was a good weekend for local music buffs, particularly in the Long Neck, Delaware area. I’ve often wondered if those people who live by American Legion Post 28 there sit outside on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and listen in. Of course they could just come on down, too.

Anyway, the Concert for a Random Soldier began at noon but since we were still in church at that time we were casually late enough to get there just in time for the longtime event staple 33 1/3 to wrap up; meanwhile, one of the acoustic acts played while we grabbed some lunch.

So band number one on my agenda was Pros from Dover.

Despite the name, none of them are from Dover. The name is actually a reference from the book version of M*A*S*H.

They played somewhat of a country-tinged set in song selection, which was fine for an event which generally works its way from oldies to classic rock to heavier and more modern as the day turns to evening.

Speaking of country, you can’t beat the unusual start to the set of Slinging Daisies.

It’s probably been 25 years since I heard the old C. W. McCall chestnut “Convoy” and it wasn’t a cover band that did it. They did a set that featured a handful of originals, but also played the song that’s tradition at the Concert for a Random Soldier: “Paint It Black” from the Rolling Stones.

The reason this song gets Terri Clifton onto the dance floor is that it was her son Chad’s favorite song.

Another band that’s been doing the CRS annually in recent years is Judy Sings the Blues. They come as advertised, playing a number of standards and one original about Judy’s fear of spiders.

One band that didn’t come as advertised was Semiblind. Due to an unfortunate series of mishaps, the band was truncated down to its founding members Jim and Michele Hogsett. These longtime staunch supporters of the CRS played instead as their acoustic duo Dog & Butterfly.


Things then got a little funky, as Conjunction Funktion took the stage with some brass.

Again unusual for a cover band: how many would lead off with “Josie” by Steely Dan? These guys did.

Sadly, we had to leave as Conjunction Funksion played so I missed the band I would have liked to check out, Modern Day Addiction. Besides those guys and 33 1/3, other bands on the bill were Oh Boy, JB Duo, Beach Trip, Captain Mike, and The Runner-Ups. Several of these also have played the event in recent years, and they should be thanked for supporting the Guitars for Vets cause.

So next year, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the 11th annual CRS will likely feature a number of these same acts for a day of music, food, and fun.

A weekend to remember, 2015 edition

In previous years I have detailed some of those events I have attended, and this year is no different except I decided to take fewer pictures and enjoy (or take stock in) the events more.

On Sunday our family made a regular stop, honoring the veterans through music at the Concert for a Random Soldier in Long Neck, Delaware.

The event is now in its tenth year (more on that in a bit) and it benefits this veterans organization, Guitars for Vets.

Naturally, local veterans organizations use this both to inform others who may be interested in their service and to gather together.

Since this event has now reached a decade in duration, I found it very cool that the Delaware General Assembly saw fit to honor it with proclamations from both their House of Delegates and Senate. Senator Ernie Lopez presented the Senate version to event creator Terri Clifton.

Delegate Steve Smyk did the same for the House, but that was prior to our arrival.

Originally I wasn’t going to do a second post but as it turned out I had enough band photos that I will do a separate Weekend of Local Rock post next weekend. The Concert for a Random Soldier also featured a modest car show, raffles, and good food. Next year you should make plans to join in this worthwhile family Sunday.

Another event which has become an annual tradition here in Salisbury is the Memorial Day ceremony at the Wicomico County Youth and Civic Center.

As it has become tradition, I decided not to do a full pictorial of the event – if you want the blow-by-blow, previous coverage will suffice.

But each year I notice that, while there is a handful of new people there, the majority of those who attend and participate have some number of gray hairs. It’s worth pointing out that the revival of patriotism that was a reaction to the mistreatment of those who returned from Vietnam almost a half-century ago is itself nearly 25 years old. (The Reagan years birthed the resurgence, but it began in earnest when we sent troops over for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in 1991.) Those who served in that particular theater of war are now themselves middle-aged.

Instead, those in the present generation of fighting men (and women) are once again saddled with the fact they fought in what became an unpopular war where any victories gained were squandered by subsequent military decisions and strategy. I sense at times that patriotism is once again becoming a parody of itself – talking about “‘Murica” and all that. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the current political leadership, but to me it’s still there.

Memorial Day, however, is a day to set aside political feelings for the conflicts we find ourselves ensnared in, for the thousands and thousands who have perished in defense of our land are the ones we should be remembering today. Just because the federal government made it a three-day weekend, replacing the traditional May 30 date to instead insure it’s always on a Monday, doesn’t mean that the sense of loss for the families comes to an end or that the sacrifices were any less ultimate.

I hope those who are growing up come to understand the true meaning of the holiday, for I sometimes get the bad feeling their generation may bear the brunt of future observances. Let’s hope my hunch is wrong.

A Memorial Day perspective 2014

Normally on Memorial Day I recount the events of our county’s Memorial Day service, which is generally a rather brief ceremony of about a half-hour that I regularly attend. In it, current and retired living members of the military pay homage to those 190 men and women from Wicomico County killed on the field of battle since World War I.

But this evening, as the sun sets on another Memorial Day weekend, I would like to look forward. This is intended in no way whatsoever to dismiss the memory of those who sacrificed. Yet on Memorial Day 2015 some among us will once again wring our hands and fret that the majority of the populace treats Memorial Day as just an excuse to kick off summer with a three-day weekend.

For the better part of a century, Memorial Day was generally assigned the date of May 30. Whichever day of the week it fell on, people paused to remember the fallen – and at the time it was changed by an act of Congress in 1968 (taking effect in 1971) we were in the midst of a war in which many thousands of Americans were killed. Perhaps it’s a change in attitude as the memories of massive worldwide conflict perish with the last generation that fought in a major two-front war, but in the years since war has seemed to become that event which occupies the news cycle for a period of days when major incidents occur then fades back into the noise of everyday life.

It pains me to see the memory of those who perished be reduced to what amounts to a three-day party by many of those who may well be consigned to a life of slavery without the efforts of those who fought and died.

And don’t get me wrong – while some may argue I’m not in a position to speak because I didn’t serve in the military, being fortunate enough to come of age in a time of relative peace and prosperity under Ronald Reagan, I still feel my opinion is valid as a citizen of a great nation in danger of losing its moorings. If we can deal with the fact that Independence Day remains on July 4 and Veterans Day is always November 11, I think Memorial Day should return to May 30 regardless of the day of the week it falls on. That beloved three-day weekend would have still been in effect this year as the 30th falls on a Friday, but I think the purpose of the day has been diluted because it’s always placed on a Monday. There’s no doubt those in the tourism industry and retailers who think the three-day weekend jumpstarts summer sales will scream bloody murder, but they can make do.

So as you prepare for the shortened work week, think about what returning to a specific day may mean for the aspects of patriotism, love of country, and appreciation of sacrifice.

A weekend to remember, 2013 edition

The last time I did this combo was two years ago and I called it “A weekend to remember.” This rendition will be somewhat longer but recount the same two events two years on: the 8th annual Concert for a Random Soldier at the American Legion Post 28 outside Millsboro, Delaware and the annual Memorial Day celebration here in Salisbury at the Civic Center – I believe this is the eleventh under its current format and location.

It was a little windy in Delaware yesterday, but the show went on.

I missed last year’s CRS but in many respects it was like embracing a long-lost friend: several of the acts play the event year after year, and the organizer who tirelessly puts it all together is Terri Clifton, on behalf of the Chad Clifton Foundation – named for her son who was killed in Iraq in 2005.

Of course, she has a lot of support in the effort. This year I noticed the presence of the state’s Vietnam Veterans Association in a much more prominent role.

As always, since it’s a Concert for a Random Soldier, nearly a dozen bands and acoustical acts played in the event. I’ll highlight them in a future Weekend of Local Rock post, but this shot was taken as the Joey Fulkerson Trio was playing.

But there were other things going on as well. It’s hard for me to resist a car show, with this black 1959 Chevy El Camino grabbing second overall. It won the monoblogue prize as my favorite, though.

A close runner-up in both instances (third overall) was this Chevy, which as my memory serves is a 1962 model.

It’s rare that you see a bumper sticker on these classics, but the owner here felt he had to make an exception.

That was pretty much the extent of the political, although one musician noted that a government which wasn’t doing anything could learn the example of these people, who were doing something. That something was supporting Guitars for Vets, which uses music as therapy for returning veterans who need the help.

Not only were the bands donating their time, so were the people making the food.

Grilling chicken (mb) (640x480)

It takes a lot of effort behind the scenes to make this sort of things work, even to the extent of decorating the tables.

But sometimes you just have to give it up for divine assistance with a near-perfect day – certainly not blazing hot and humid like our Memorial Day weekends are generally known for. I just liked this picture.

Those who gathered this morning at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center this morning probably also appreciated the cooler weather, although the gathering didn’t seem to be any more or less attended than usual.

Upon arriving, I heard the mournful sound of bagpipes and saw a brief practice going on.

There is a point to be made with that, trust me.

But in general, the ceremony remained within its familiar ritual, down to the same donation box. It wasn’t very full when I peeked in, though.

As always, the master of ceremonies was Tony Sarbanes, an Army veteran and former County Council member. Sitting beside him were members of each service branch who would contribute with the recitation of their branch prayers and Ed Tattersall, who annually reads the names of the 190 Wicomico County men who have been killed in action since World War I.

Prayer readers (mb) (480x640)

Sarbanes stepped aside for a invocation by the Rev. Harvey Dixon and singing of the National Anthem by Ronny Cheezum before leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance. Then the colors were lowered by the Wicomico High School JROTC.

With SM Chief Dave Suiter ringing the Red Knights Memorial Bell before the list from each conflict, Sgt. Tattersall read off all 190 names.

While those who read the branch prayers and conducted the ceremony tended to be of the Vietnam generation and older, there were signs that youth was beginning to be served. As the wreath was being laid, bagpiper Matthew Wallace was joined for the first time by his son Payton.

After the Wicomico County Sheriff’s detail presented the volley of arms, the event was concluded with the playing of Taps and a benediction. John Jochum has played Taps in this ceremony before but I didn’t recall Tara Bramble having done so.

So it appears more of the next generation are taking an interest, which is an encouraging sign. Another is the media attention, as I wasn’t the only media there.

Granted, those I ran into over the weekend were probably but a few of the Americans most interested in honoring those who gave of themselves so we can have the freedom we enjoy today. This isn’t the time to debate whether we are really more or less free than we have been previously, or whether the most recent sacrifices have been in vain. We have 360 or so other days for that.

But many millions more look at the Memorial Day weekend as a gateway to summer, bolstered by the fact that a few decades ago the federal government changed the date from May 30 to the last Monday in May. (Just like Independence Day, this year that date would fall on a Thursday.) Great for tourism and commercialization of the holiday, but bad for remembering the actual sacrifices of those who have fallen.

A Memorial Day observation

Perhaps the torch is being passed.

For the last eight years I have taken time out to attend Wicomico County’s Memorial Day service held at the Youth and Civic Center. Each occasion has several things in common, with the most striking being that it’s always warm and muggy on Memorial Day around here.

If you want to have a blow-by-blow of how the ceremony is conducted, you can go to my 2009 Memorial Day post. Over the last couple years I had backed up the post with a second event, the Concert for a Random Soldier; alas, I didn’t make it there this year. But the Wicomico County event maintains the same schedule and rhythm year after year, so there wasn’t much point in telling the same story over again.

I didn’t take as many pictures this year because I was more interested in making some points with the ones I took.

I’ll begin with this one, which is the group who recited each service prayer.

The gentleman speaking at the podium is Ed Tattersall, who annually recites the name of the 188 from Wicomico County who have fallen in battle since World War I. Fortunately, that number hasn’t budged in a couple years.

But the reason I added the picture was to illustrate the graying nature of the participants. Although there are a few younger veterans in the picture, most of these men and women have done this ceremony a number of times.

We did get a new bell ringer last year, as the old veteran who used to do this could no longer do so.

The bagpipe player, Matthew Wallace, has also been in several of these, but I have no idea how he can stand the heat in that outfit. In fact, one concession to the heat and humidity is that the JROTC members no longer have to stand at attention at their flagpoles throughout the event, which customarily lasts about 40 minutes. We’ve had a few pass out over the years so now they get a break.

Slowly but surely, these young JROTC cadets are being joined by veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

This is what his shirt says.

It brings up another point. I have no idea what the racial makeup is of those who were killed in battle from our county; however, something tells me that the proportion of minority veterans today is larger than their percentage of the general population, mainly due to economic circumstance. It will be interesting to see how the makeup of those attending this ceremony will change in future years as veterans who served four to six decades ago pass from the scene and those who served from Operation Desert Shield on take their place.

As always, there was a modest gathering on hand; perhaps more than some would expect given this day and age of disrespect to the mission, if not those carrying it out.

With combat operations winding down in the Middle East, the chances of another name being added to the list diminish – but it’s still possible. We still live in a dangerous world and no one knows just where the next hotspot could be. I don’t think many of those who served would wish their experiences onto anyone else, but it’s up to all of us to remember that freedom isn’t free and should never be taken for granted.

A weekend to remember

Some people go to a Memorial Day weekend picnic, others head to take advantage of sales or see a movie, and judging by the traffic heading westbound on U.S. 50 today a LOT of people spent their Memorial Day weekend in Ocean City. But I march to a somewhat different drummer and chose to honor those for whom the event was created in both traditional and nontraditional ways.

This is where Kim and I spent a large portion of our Sunday, for a good pair of causes.

No, it wasn’t your traditional celebration. I’m going to talk about the music itself in a future post, but the Concert for a Random Soldier up in Millsboro, Delaware featured other events as well. This classic Dodge pickup from 1941 was the winner of the modest car show held there.

This was a place where veterans could get together and comfort each other. The concert began as a method for one set of grieving parents to heal and honor their son’s memory six years ago and has grown from a small gathering to an annual event which is getting more coverage in the local media. One local radio station did a remote from there.

Terri Clifton (left in photo) is the face behind the Concert for a Random Soldier, but she doesn’t do it alone. There are literally dozens of volunteers, supporters, and people who find a way to help out behind the scenes. Consider the musicians who create the draw for the concert, which featured seven bands and a number of various acoustic acts this year – many of those have performed at the show several years in a row (for free) because they felt the need to help out.

Add in the vendors who provide the food and secure what turns out to be a very pleasant and visible venue along Delaware Route 24, and it’s obvious that pulling off an event like this doesn’t come that easily.

Without getting too much into the musical content (since I’m saving that for another post) it’s fair to say that there was something to appeal to most veterans, whether Vietnam-era or those who recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. I noticed that the crowd was considerably less gray as the day wore on since the more modern acts were scheduled last.

But regardless of who was playing, the theme was the same: we support our troops.

It’s something which seems to be lost nowadays simply because we’re several generations removed from an all-out war effort. You can ask those who grew up in the World War II era about rationing and war bonds, but that generation is slipping away quickly. A world which has recently seen the passing of the last veterans of the “Great War” (what we call World War I) is perhaps thirty years removed from that same disappearance of World War II veterans and maybe two generations from losing our Korean soldiers.

By the time we got to Vietnam, the attitudes changed, and many of those Baby Boomers who didn’t get drafted into that war were the ones protesting it. Practically no one likes war, but there are those who chose to fight and paid for that decision with their lives.

Most of us do what’s politically correct, festooning our abodes with red, white, and blue – besides, it comes in handy for the next big holiday as well. And don’t get me wrong: I’m glad Memorial Day weekend is a big tourist attraction for Ocean City. But I believe we are losing sight of the sacrifices made by those in the military because so few of us are affected anymore. Less than 1 percent of the general population is now active-duty military, so we don’t have the streets with houses with blue or gold stars in the windows as we did nearly 70 years ago. (Yes, the next Pearl Harbor Day will be the 70th anniversary one. That’s why we’re losing World War II veterans at a increasing pace, since they’re now in their eighties or nineties for the most part.)

And I saw a few of those veterans at the more traditional celebration Wicomico County holds at the Civic Center each Memorial Day.

It actually was a very pretty day for a service.

And it appeared to me, since I’ve covered a few of these in a row, that the crowd was roughly the same as it had been in previous years.

And the veterans were still there to honor their individual service branches.

But there were some subtle changes to the program. An addition was giving certificates of recognition to two people: the widow of a Veterans Memorial board member and a retiring JROTC coordinator. The students caught a break as well, as they were released from flag duty once the colors were lowered. No longer did they have to stand at attention throughout the ceremony and risk passing out from the heat and humidity as a few have over the years.

Also, instead of having veterans recognized by branch of service, they were recognized by conflict. It pointed up the dwindling number of World War II and Korean veterans who could get to the program.

Even the bell ringer was new. But, the one thing which didn’t change was the number of names read – it stayed the same as last year as no one from Wicomico County lost their lives in an active war zone.

While there are many who are earnest in their desire to see us no longer need to fight wars, the stark reality is that we will always have enemies among our brother nations. We’ve become close friends with our first enemy as well as those we fought against in subsequent wars, but one never quite knows where the next threat is coming from and it’s a reminder we need to be ready.

The events of this weekend make me proud to know there are those among us who respect the fact freedom and liberty are worth dying for.