On a day that felt more like the unofficial start of winter than summer, Memorial Day's cold, harsh meaning was laid bare at Rolling Green Cemetery in Lower Allen Township, Cumberland County.
“Veterans who have died in combat for us to sustain our freedoms and to support us through difficult times in the world, those veterans have made us a nation that's second to none,” said Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Dunning of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle.
Dunning was the keynote speaker at a special ceremony Friday afternoon. He was surrounded by row upon row of flags that marked the grave sites of veterans. Forty-eight hundred wind-whipped flags honored many generations of Americans and their sacrifice through many wars.
“Seventeen and 18-year olds, first time away from the farm, first time away from mom, and there they were in a foreign country with a rifle in their hand. A lot of them didn't come home,” said Commander David Barninger of VFW Post 7530.
He could've been talking about World War I, or World War II, or Korea, or Vietnam, or Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans, and Pennsylvanians, keep on contributing to the nation's war efforts and this cemetery is the final resting spot for veterans from all of those conflicts.
Gunshots from the 21-gun salute filled the air and Gloria Hughes' eyes filled with tears. She and her granddaughter Desirae are regular attendees at this Memorial Day Ceremony.
“To visit my pappy” said Desirae. “I remember he used to take me for ice cream and took my training wheels off my bike and five minutes later I busted my head open,” Desirae recalled with a hearty laugh.
But like a sun shower, the laugh continues as her eyes well up. Desirae focuses on her grandfather's headstone that's just feet away and the thousands of others adorned with flags. The true meaning of Memorial Day hits her.
“Because they fought for our freedom. And that's why … oh, you're making me cry.” She shakes her head and smiles at her grandmother and fights back tears. “They just fought for our freedom.”
William Hughes, of Perry County, was a Navy veteran, husband, father and grandfather. The family dressed his marker in red, white and blue. Hughes didn't die in combat. He served in 1960-61. But he did die young, at 50.
“It took me a lot of years to come over here,” said his wife Gloria. “But once I found out that they had this service every Memorial Day, I come every year because it's just great. It's important that everybody comes out to remember our fallen heroes.”
All, like William, gave some.
Some, gave all.
The least the rest of us can do is remember them.