With a clear blue sky overhead, the Jay American Legion gathered to remember.
On Monday, May 27, the Legion had joined together to commemorate Memorial Day with a ceremony. Presiding over the gathering was Robert Lawson, a Vietnam veteran who had served in the Navy from 1959-1963. Lawson spoke of the American heroes whose names were inlaid in the bricks nearby. These names served in American wars from the Revolutionary War into Iraq.
“On this special day of remembrance, we will focus our attention on those who have gone on before us. back as far as the civil war,” said Lawson. “As we look through the brick inscriptions, we note that there are several Civil War veterans represented.”
One brick is etched with the name of Thomas Meredith. Meredith was a private in the Union Army and served in Company H, 30th Regiment, Missouri Infantry.
“I think that it’s wonderful that families have kept up with their heritage to the point that they know that you had family members who fought in the bloodiest war that America ever had, because both sides were Americans. Beliefs ran so strong that sometimes family members fought against other family members. How sad that must have been,” said Lawson.
World War I
Lawson pressed on through history and spoke of World War I, which raged from 1914 to 1918, the United States joined in the fray in 1917. World War I was called “the war to end all wars” by BBC news in England. World War I was a turning point for military tactics. The use of barbed wire, which caused issues for mass infantry advances, machine guns, which caused issues crossing open ground, and the failure to develop a tactic to breach trenches cause the introduction of gas warfare and tanks.
“All of the WWI veterans are now gone and have been for several years. If you look carefully in the rows of bricks, you will find several veterans represented that once walked the hills and fished the streams here in Delaware County before the lakes were built here in this beautiful part of God’s Creation,” said Lawson. “WWI was a war fought from trenches. When they entered the fields of battle that had been mutilated by shelling and bombing, now suddenly they were quiet and peaceful again. Soon the rains came and the fields burst forth in a blaze of color from the wild red poppies that were seen growing everywhere.”
Lawson was referring to Flanders, Belgium who’s fields bloom with red poppies. Poppies have become the symbol of rememberable for soldiers who had perished in wartime. In 1915, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant John McCray penned a poem “In Flander’s Fields” for a fallen friend. McCray’s poem is inscribed in the Honor Walk in Jay.
World War II
Another name inlaid in the bricks of the Honor Walk is Jay resident, Elvis Orr. Orr was a Marine who served in World War II and passed in 2014.
“Many of us here still remember Elvis Orr,” said Lawson. “Orr served in the United States Marine Corps. He joined the Navy, but they put him in the Marines and I’d say that was a good choice on their part. Elvis fought in most of the major island battles in the Pacific without a single day to come home. He fought on Iwo Jima and helped to provide cover for the five marines and one sailor who struggled to raise the flag there.”
Lawson recounts how the iconic flag raising picture at top Iwo Jima came into being.
“[It] was a photo op, there had been a smaller flag raised earlier, but they were able to acquire a large sized flag off of one of the ships that was anchored off shore, so they did a photo op. During that time, there were still Japanse underground and [Orr] served as a sentry to help keep those who were involved in the photo op safe,” said Lawson.
Two other Delaware Countians who served were honored, the Nickell brothers, Elmo and Delmo. The twins served as a private and staff sergeant, respectively. Neither brother would come home, with Elmo passing on February 23, 1945 and Delmo on July 10, 1945.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion.
“On June 6, 1944 in Normandy, France was the largest amphibious assault in the history of human warfare. A young man from Eucha, Oklahoma, lost his life that day along with 800,229 brave American troops. His name is Eugene Hutchison. His body is buried in France, he has a brick here in the wall,” said Lawson.
Private first class Eugene Hutchison was the first cousin of Legion member David Dunham. Dunham was instrumental in placing a marker in Duffield Cemetery in Jay in memory of his cousin’s passing on July 21, 1944.
Roger Cate was a bulldozer operator in Normandy.
“Roger was a bulldozer operator. And spent his first night on the beach under his bulldozer. The next morning, he found that eleven others had joined him in the night,” said Lawson.
Lawson had his own relation he was remembering, his cousin, Kenneth Lawson, who was aboard the U.S.S. Shark II submarine. Lawson found the information concerning his cousin in a book on American submarines and he believes that the information was supplied by the Japanese after the war.
“On October 4, 1944, the Japanese dropped death charges on the American submarine, the USS Shark II in the straight of Luzon in the Philippines. There were no survivors as usually there are not on the incident of submarines,” said Lawson.
Sailors aboard submarines experienced the highest casualty rate of any military service. The United States lost fifty-two submarines in World War II alone.
Lawson closed the proceedings with words in honor of all American veterans.
“Again our nation has assembled today to honor our nation’s heroic dead. A thousand battles of land and sea and air echo the glory of their valiant deeds. Under the quiet sod, beneath the murmuring waves their bodies sleep in peace. But in the destinies of veterans, their souls go marching on. Because of them our lives are free. Because of them our nation lives,” said Lawson. "They fought for us, for us they fell. Now with one accord and with deepest reverence we do them honor."
Members of the Legion then lowered the flag to half-staff as Taps played, closing the ceremony.
About Memorial Day
The national holiday known as Memorial Day has roots that can be traced back to before the Civil War when residents in the Southern Appalachian Mountains would decorated the graves of loved ones with flowers in remembrance.
In 1861, the first Civil War soldier’s grave was decorated. The grave was located in Warrenton Virginia. On June 3 the following year, women visited the graves of the Confederate soldiers in Savannah, Georgia to commemorate the memory of the soldiers. By 1864, the holiday had spread to the North and Boalsburg, Pennsylvania had taken ownership of the holiday, even calling itself ‘the birthplace of Memorial Day’ on the city’s website.
May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan made Decoration Day a national holiday via a proclamation that called for the day to be recognized annually across the nation. Logan had adopted many of the practices the south had incorporated into their events. The holiday events quickly grew. By 1869, 336 cemeteries held memorial events for fallen veterans.
Although first used in 1882, the name ‘Memorial Day’ was not common until after the second World War. In 1967, by Federal law, the name was changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day.
In 1968, Congress passed an act, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, moving George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day to specific Mondays throughout the year. This created the three day weekend system that most Americans are familiar with. The act , which went into effect in 1971, changed Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War opposed the act. The VFW stated in 2002 that changing the date so as to make a three day weekend undermined the very meaning of the day. The organization also said that this attributed to the public’s “nonchalant observance” of the holiday.
Today, Memorial Day is the holiday where Americans remember the veterans who have passed away, honoring their service and their memories. At sunrise, the flag is to be lowered to half-staff until noon, when the flag returns to full-staff. In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance act, where Americans are to stop and remember veterans at 3 p.m.