Memorial Day services honor those who protect freedom

By Josette Keelor

Memorial Day is a yearly reminder of the sacrifice made by those who have died in battle in the United States and around the world.

Once called Decoration Day, Memorial Day began after the Civil War as an annual dedication to victims of battle on American soil. Later, Memorial Day came to include Americans who died in any conflict.

Ray Powell, member of the Veterans of Foreign War, said it’s important to recognize those who protect the nation, but that Memorial Day is about more than honoring the dead.

Ceremonies around the area Monday will honor “all the wars and of course all services,” Powell said. “And we recognize current living veterans as well, but that’s not the primary.” Powell will be master of ceremonies for a Monday ceremony in Woodstock, which he said also will honor those currently serving overseas.

“And I also mention about spouses and mothers because they were as important during periods of conflict,” he said.

The joint ceremony will combine the American Legion Post 199 in Woodstock, the VFW post 2447 in Edinburg and the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter 936, Powell said. Beginning at 11 a.m. at the VFW on Stony Creek Road across from the firehouse, the service will include a joint color guard, the playing of “Taps” and an honor guard firing salute, Powell said.

A lunch will follow in the VFW hall.

Powell, now retired from the Army Corps of Engineers, is a life member of all three groups combining efforts for Monday’s service in Woodstock. He is Americanism chairman for each group, runs a veterans’ program at the Shenandoah County Fair and teaches the Constitution to area students.

“My big deal is supporting patriotism and taking care of our current veterans,” Powell said.

“Those are individuals that were guarding our freedoms,” he said.

“[The U.S.] Constitution today is the oldest in the world — [oldest] continuous constitution — and it’s the basis for all our laws.” He said because local law enforcement agencies help protect Americans, Monday’s service is for them too.

“It’s to show that it’s not just military veterans that are protecting our freedoms, and of course today a lot of our freedoms are being challenged and of course they’re challenging the Constitution, and it’s just something that has to be preserved because that’s what we fought for.”

Around the Northern Shenandoah Valley, similar ceremonies will honor the living and dead who fought for America’s future.

In Strasburg on Monday, American Legion Shenandoah Post 77 will host its annual Memorial Day service at Riverview Cemetery off of South Holliday Street. Mayor Tim Taylor will speak at the 11 a.m. service, and the legion’s color guard will present colors and play “Taps,” said post Commander Frank Hillyard.

In preparation for the ceremony, the American Legion had planned to set up flags along Main Street Saturday morning, Hillyard said.

“Most of our volunteers are members, of course,” he said. Everyone is welcome to help, though, and he added, “Hopefully we’ll have a lot this year.”

The Boy Scouts of America also were planning to put out flags around Riverview Cemetery on Saturday morning, after Thursday evening’s gathering was rained out.

In Winchester on Saturday and Sunday, volunteers at Shenandoah Memorial Park will give out flags for those visiting loved ones, said park manager Jason Fiddler.

“And on Monday, we have our big program that we have every year,” he said.

At the 10:30 a.m. service, shared with Omps Funeral Home and the Winchester VFW Post 2123, master of ceremonies John Peck and Mayor Elizabeth Minor will speak, and Ron Lauck will perform the National Anthem with the Handley High School band.

Col. Patrick Higby, of the White House Communication Agency, also will speak, Fiddler said.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com