When I was child, my grandparents always referred to it at "Decoration Day". .. we would go to the cemetery and honor our war dead.
Then it became "Memorial Day", we still went to the cemetery to honor our dead.
My Dad and his brothers are dead veterans. They are buried in military cemeteries. Uncle Frank and Uncle Bill in Jefferson Barracks Cemetery and Dad is buried here in Springfield.
When asked why Billy Long, NOT a military veteran, was chosen to be one of the key note speakers at the Cemetery Service ( "Springfield Veterans Cemetery service begins at 1:30 pm. Keynote speakers are Congressman Billy Long and Lt. Gen.(ret) Marc Rogers USAF. Phone is 417-823-3944), Springfield Cemetery director Steve Maples told the bus driver Long was chosen because "He's in my food chain."
This afternoon I called the Missouri Veterans Commission expressing my displeasure with the selection of Billy Long as a keynote speaker at a cemetery service honoring departed veterans. Especially since the news release identified each speaker at the other four cemeteries as a veteran.
When he answered the phone, after being appraised by his secretary what I was calling about, Maples said to me "You got a problem with that?" or "What's your problem with that?" I'm not sure what because I was astonished that a veteran's affairs person would use that kind of language with a veteran.
My concern with Billy Long being a keynote speaker is best exemplified by looking at Long's "YEA" vote for the Paul Ryan budget which cuts veteran funding-- Long's votes do not match his rhetoric.
Another concern with Billy Long being a keynote speaker is that fact that he is NOT a veteran. Did you know that between 1965 and 1975 the enrollment rate of college-age men in the United States rose and then fell abruptly. Research seem to think that this rate is a result of draft-avoidance behavior. Google it.
When a non-veteran congressman such as Billy Long speaks praises for veterans and greats them at the Honor Flights and then votes to cut funding for programs that benefit veterans --I just believe that this is not the person we want honoring our veteran's on Decoration Day.
When I expresses those sentiments to Steve Maples, cemetery director, he told me if I didn't like Billy Long being on the program, I could just not attend the service.
Maples also told me the press release was wrong, Long was not to be a keynote speaker but was to introduce the keynote speaker.
Maple's use of the phrase "He's in my food chain" struck me as an odd thing to say.
A quick google search: http://www.federalgrantswire.com/national-cemetery-system-department-of-veterans-affairs-federal-grants.html
To provide burial space, headstones and markers, and perpetual care for veterans and members of the Armed Forces of the United States whose service terminated other than dishonorably, and for Reservists and National Guard members having 20 years...
To furnish lasting memorials for the graves of veterans and eligible family members throughout the world and honor the service of the veteran through Presidential Memorial Certificates.
To assist States in the establishment, expansion, and improvement of veterans' cemeteries.
By choosing to use the phrase "in my food chain" -- is this some sort of 'cemetery slang'? or is Maples acknowledging that he has to 'suck up' to Billy Long. I don't know.
I do know that I certainly hope that Mr. Maples is more empathetic with the families of dead veterans than he was with this 63 year old veteran.
I spoke with Larry Kay, Executive Director of the Missouri Veterans Commission. He gave me permission to publish his Memorial Day Speech:
I am here on this beautiful Missouri Day – Memorial Day to share with you and honor those who have done their duty and gone before. As the Director of the Missouri Veterans Commission I tell people that, by definition, a Veteran is alive. Today is not Veterans Day – it’s Memorial Day – a day that we are to look backward – to reflect upon what was – and maybe even what might have been. To take a look – even for a brief moment on how the lives of those Veterans who have gone before us have changed our world.
In his book Safely Rest, David Colley describes October 26, 1947. The Joseph V. Connolly is sailing past Ambrose Light, through the Narrows and gliding slowly into New York Harbor. With her are the destroyers USS Bristol and the USS Beatty along with the gleaming white Coast Guard Cutter USS Spence. The 16 Inch Guns of the USS Missouri boom a salute that echos off the New Jersey Palisades and through Manhattans man-made canyons. As the thunder rolls away a flight of fighter planes roars overhead and gracefully turns away to leave the streets of New York in an eerie quiet.
At the same time the United States Army Transport Ship Honda Knot slips through the frigid waters on the west coast beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The aerial escort of 48 fighter planes flies over the vessel and dips their wings in salute before banking away. The Honda Knott is escorted to the marina pier by surface ships from the Coast Guard and Navy where a Navy launch greets the ship and offers a massive wreath from President Truman.
On the deck of each ship is a United States military-issue metal casket draped by a Flag of the United States of America. Each Casket is escorted by an honor guard representing each branch of service. On board the Joseph V. Connolly are 6,248 coffins containing the remains of Soldiers killed in the European Theater of World War II. In the hold of the Honda Knot are 3,112 coffins of those Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines killed in the Pacific Theater of World War II. It was the initial stage of what has been called the most melancholy immigration movement in the history of man – the return to the United States of 233,181 Americans dead after the end of World War II. Think about it – 233,181 Americans. America’s army of fallen warriors was coming home from the four corners of the earth – from Guadalcanal and Australia, from New Guinea, Japan, China and Burma in the Pacific Theatre. From the Mediterranean Theater men were returned from Libya, Sicily, Italy, Yugoslavia and Romania. The bodies of men who had died in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany also came home. Most had been killed in action or had died from wounds received in combat against the enemy.
An additional 93,242 men were buried in overseas American Cemeteries because the families believed it more appropriate for them to rest with comrades near the battlefields upon which they had died.
The families of 78,976 dead had no choice. Their sons were listed as missing in action and their remains were never recovered. Even today the number missing has been reduced by only a fraction. About 8,000 of the lost have been recovered but are listed as unknown in American Cemeteries overseas.
The entire repatriation program took six years to complete from 1945 to 1951 at a cost of two hundred million 1945 dollars or several billion dollars today.
In comparison, More than 1200 were returned after the Spanish-American War and 46,292 were returned from France after World War I with 30,921 being buried in eight American Military Cemeteries in France following the conflict.
Today our Nation glorifies World War II – the Great Crusade and we idolize the men of the Greatest Generation and immortalize the dwindling legions of heroes in our midst. But in our idolatry, we have lost touch with the immense pain and suffering caused by the war and the ripples of sorrow that flowed though our land for decades. Since their time – they have been joined by comrades of Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Persian Gulf and Iraq and Afghanistan. Those families and friends who have experienced the pain know it clearly.
So what are we to learn from this – what do these rows of perfectly aligned grave markers tell us?
First, they describe the definition of a hero. Here today rest the earthly remains of some of those who came home on October 26, 1947. All of those are recipients of the Purple Heart. There are Congressional Medal of Honor recipients here - there are Generals with awards arching over the top of their dress jackets. Yet there are also those who died bedridden decades after their duty qualified them for this sacred place. There are Privates with a one line pedigree on a DD214 stating simply that they served. There are spouses of Veterans and dependent children – all of whom were familiar with the sacrifice of having served – true Patriots in their own right.
Is the Service of the 87 year old Veteran any less than the service of the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient? Is the Spouse who was charged with the care and conduct of their family to be afforded the same respect as their spouse whose exploits were celebrated and lauded when they returned?
Take a look – really, take a look. Look at the rows of white stones in this cemetery. This is the great equalizer. Here among these stones there is no African American Section – there is no special place for Generals or a separate section for Marines. Rank, color, creed – religion – they have no place here. To be a member of this club you had to raise your right hand and swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. That simple act began the journey of sacrifice that led service members and their families to this place.
Second, what do you take away from this? To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln – “in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men and women have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”
Many of you believe that you have come here to pay respect to those who have gone before. I honestly don’t believe that’s what they would have wanted. Much as Jesus served Communion to the 12 – these Patriots are here to honor you today. They are here to tell you that America is worth both service and sacrifice. They are here to tell you that there are things more horrible than being killed in a righteous cause for which you believe. I think they would smile when they see the professionalism, service and sacrifice of today’s military. Today’s military is built squarely upon the backs of those in this cemetery. They would also be proud to learn that it’s no longer a Band of Brothers but a Band of Brothers and Sisters upon whom rests the security of our Nation.
If you listen they might tell you to square you life and circumscribe your passions. They might tell you to not be a part of spending your children’s future. They might tell you to get right with God and seek his forgiveness.
And I think they would tell you to take care of Veterans – for they are the ones who have gone into the night to ensure that everything you take for granted is secure.
Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake, from the skies,
All is well,
Safely rest, God is nigh. ---- Thank you.
Larry D. Kay
BG, USA (ret)
Missouri Veterans Commission