As an unabashed traditionalist, I find it lamentable to see our commemorative holidays viewed by much of the public as incentive to shop or to engage in other pursuits which, while not morally or ethically wrong, demean the history and/or sacrifice behind the event. As an example, to all too many, Memorial Day has become little more than opening day for barbecue season.
I don't mean to imply that we should not enjoy these brief respites from our day-to-day pursuits with a bit of self indulgence; nevertheless, the majority of these times when work is suspended by law or custom promoted the sacrifice of those who came before us. Independence Day, Veteran’s Day, Labor Day, et al. are far more than firecrackers, lip service and the last day to barbecue — those who made them possible deserve our respect.
Historically, Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, created by General John A. Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. General Orders Number 11 designated May 30, 1868 “for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” Following World War I, casualties of all American wars were included in memorial services.
For a number of years, the states comprising the confederacy did not celebrate Decoration/Memorial Day, instead they decorated thebgraves of their veterans on dates such as the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. In 1967, Memorial Day was designated a federal holiday by President Lyndon Johnson.
The resurrection of Memorial Day as a traditional holiday began here in Columbia, Missouri in 1989, commensurate with the relocation of Mary McCleary Posner from New York to the city of her birth. Upon learning there was no longer a suitable, visible tribute to memorialize fallen veterans, she organized a small group of volunteers and set out to fill the void.
That first year featured a parade down Broadway and a fly over by two WWII airplanes, a P-51 Mustang and a Mitchell B-25 medium bomber, the aircraft immortalized by the 1942 Doolittle raid, the first against the Japanese home land. Thus was born the Salute to Veterans Corporation and its stated mission: “To honor and remember those who have served, those serving in our Armed Forces, Guard Reserves and Allies.
This year marks a milestone in maturity for the Salute to Veterans Memorial Day Air show and Parade–the 21st anniversary of its founding. Each and every one of those years has seen the air show and parade grow in attendance, participation and national stature. Not only is it the largest civilian air show in the country, it is the only one of its kind that charges neither admission nor parking nor any fees at all–it is the best show in town and it is free!
As stated earlier, Mary began with a handful of volunteers – this group of loyalists has grown to more than 3,000 strong, with some 100 committees – none of whom draw a dime for their services. The secret of her strength is in her unique ability to recruit and organize volunteers – if you have trouble believing that, I dare you to try to say no to Mary, Columbia’s embodiment of the Pied Piper.
The path to success has not been without a few bumps and potholes and one major, prolonged attempt at derailing the air show by a lawsuit alleging violation of First Amendment rights by the Salute to Veterans Corporation. Sadly, a small group of individuals placed their own self interests and egos ahead of those of then community by demanding the right of on-site protest of the air show as “a glorification of war.”
They won the battle (lawsuit) but lost the war–the community voted by ignoring the dissenters and voting with an even larger attendance that ever before. The lesson learned here is, while the Constitution may occasionally be interpreted for the benefit a few, the will of the people is not to be denied — the show goes on.
Accordingly, on this 21st annual Salute to Veterans, I encourage all veterans to return that salute to Mary McCleary Posner, whose unswerving dedication to honoring and remembering all deceased, living and future veterans has earned for her national as well as local respect. Let’s face it, the Blue Angels, the A-10 demonstration team, the Harrier, the vintage aircraft, General Davis, Colonel Hoover, the Tuskegee Airmen, the POWs and all the Honored Guests, performances and displays that make this celebration possible did not just happen by chance.
Mary, to you I offer the finest tribute an old Marine can give – Semper Fi. You have earned the eternal gratitude and respect of all who carry the title, veteran.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.