By Crystal Burns
With small American flags whipping in the wind next to the graves of military veterans, the Dyer community gathered Sunday afternoon at Oakland Cemetery to honor fallen soldiers.
Johnny McIlwain and Judy Baker organized the Memorial Day service, with Chancellor George Ellis giving the keynote address.
Ellis reminded the crowd of Memorial Day’s history. It started as Decoration Day and was officially recognized three years after the Civil War ended. Two theories exist to its original May 30 observance: flowers were in bloom at the time and May 30 was the only day during the Civil War that a major battle didn’t occur.
“It’s been a real education for me to prepare for today’s remarks,” Ellis said.
He said he spent time at Oakland and other local cemeteries, studying the headstones to find veterans who died in war.
In Oakland Cemetery, Ellis found two soldiers – brothers Hal and Willie Hudson – who died in World War I, three who were killed in World War II, two in the Korean War and one in the Vietnam War.
Ellis said by gathering each Memorial Day to remember their sacrifices, the community proves the words of the poet Robert Laurence Binyon who wrote, “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old,” in his poem “For The Fallen.”
After Ellis’ remarks, young volunteers gave red carnations to the families with veterans buried in the cemetery.
The red carnations served in place of red poppies. Melissa Stafford shared the origin of the red poppy as a symbol of memorializing fallen soldiers.
Moina Michael read “In Flanders Fields” and saw a bright, red poppy on the page of a Ladies Home Journal magazine two days before World War I Armistice Day. She was transfixed by John McCrae’s last stanza:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The image and poem inspired Michael to write “We Shall Keep the Faith” and sent it her on a 26-year campaign to have the red poppy officially recognized as a symbol of memorial, earning her the affectionate nickname, “The Poppy Lady.”
The first lines of the second stanza of Michael’s poem says,
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
The Boy Scouts Troop 243 helped conclude the program by reading the names of the 292 veterans buried in Oakland Cemetery. They met early Saturday morning to place American flags on those 292 graves.
Logan Pack, first chair trumpet in the Gibson County High School band, played “Taps” to end the ceremony.
Other contributors included Rev. Randy Mutter, Burt Hooper who led the Pledge of Allegiance, Amy Powell who sung the national anthem, Mayor Chris Younger, Rachel Abbott, Kareen Griffin, Kelly Tucker and Ken Pullias.