The resume of military service that had gathered for coffee at the local veterans’ post was comprised of various decades in locations throughout the world. Germany in the ’50s, Iraq in the last decade, even the Coast Guard during the 1940s was represented. Once the handshakes and coffee were doled out at this monthly gathering, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7181 and American Legion 414 turned their thoughts to Memorial Day, which happens for these men each year around this time.
“It’s a day of remembrance,” VFW Commander Howard “Bud” Boy said. “It’s really a day when everybody should take part in a Memorial Day ceremony, if one is available to them. We should spend at least an hour on Memorial Day to remember all the men and women that lost their lives so we can live the way we wish to live. Unfortunately, it’s gotten to a point of how easily we forget.”
Boy served in the U.S. Army from 1954 to 1956 and said he will always cherish the value he finds in supporting and honoring the nation’s troops. He’s worried though, that younger generations aren’t as reverent and that politics will overshadow the courage it takes to stand in harm’s way.
“I remember when I served in Germany, we would go on maneuvers through some of the hills and mountains,” Boy said. “People would hang out of their windows and give us the ‘V for victory’ sign. This was 10 years after the end of World War II and these people never forgot to thank us from taking them out from under the clutches of Hitler. That gave me a feeling that we were really helping those people.”
Russ Meredith, a VFW adjutant and service officer, served as a Navy reservist between 2003 and 2005 in Iraq. Originally, Meredith was assigned to help with roadside reconstruction. However, since collateral damage was not as great as projected, he served in more of a humanitarian role, he said.
Almost 50 years after Boy’s experience in Germany, Meredith said he was touched in a similar fashion by an inspiring show of support from the Iraqis.
“A lot of times we saw Iraqi people holding up American flags,” Meredith said. “It was their way of saying, ‘Thank you for helping us and you’re welcome in our country.’
“On the other side of the coin there were other people who did not want us there and continue to not want us there. We’re there more or less as liberators and not occupiers. We want to help and not conquer. People have asked me about my views of the war. I think we should be there, not necessarily fighting a war but just to help those people.”
Regardless of the divergent views on Iraq or past conflicts like Vietnam, VFW member Neil Scarpelli said that the sacrifices military members have made merit respect.
On Memorial Day, May 26, the VFW and American Legion members will meet for coffee and doughnuts at 10 a.m. at their post. They will visit the Forest Home Cemetery to place wreaths at the Grand Army of the Republic monument and the Veterans Triangle. The day will culminate with an assembly at 2 p.m. at the Park District on Harrison Street before returning to their VFW post, which will be open to the public, for beverages and snacks.
“We have a freedom that soldiers have died for,” Scarpelli said. “The fact we can express our opinions say, against the president of the United States or for the president of the United States, without being put in chains, is a privilege.”
Ed Huebner, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska from 1942 to 1946, has always embraced what he said is the true meaning of Memorial Day.
“When I was growing up, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day,” Huebner, a VFW member since 1946 said. “My mother would take me to the cemetery to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. Since I’ve been with the VFW, I think of all my friends in the military who have passed away. Their lives are a great loss for their loved ones, their friends and for me.”
Dr. Charles Cairo, the Chaplain of American Legion 414, also misses his fallen friends.
“I think of the friendships I had when I served in the military,” Cairo said. “When you go through some hard times with people, you build a bond that stays with you. Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember my brothers and sisters who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.”
While too many precious lives have been lost through the years, Boy is heartened by displays of patriotism. He recognizes the polarized opinions on the Iraq war, but unconditional support of the troops should be timeless, he said.
“I thought Vietnam was wrong, and I’m not sure on Iraq,” Boy said. “Some people out there are really upset about Iraq. As members of the VFW, we support our troops.”
Nearly 50 years after touring Germany, Boy happened to be in Grenada when the U.S. was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. Information was scarce, but he learned of the details through British radio reports. The Twin Towers had fallen.
“The people in Grenada were really concerned about us,” Boy said. “It’s a moving experience to know other people around the world care about us.”