ORLANDO — On Memorial Day, a ceremony will be held at the Courthouse War Memorial Wall, on the south side of the Orange County Courthouse, in honor of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, a Green Beret from Oviedo, who received the posthumous Medal of Honor for his service in Afghanistan this past fall. He was killed in January 2008.
Cathy Haynes hopes the Annual Orange County War Memorial Rededication Ceremony attracts a large crowd — and it should attract more media attention than in past years, Haynes said, for one specific reason. The jurors in the highly publicized Casey Anthony trial at the courthouse indicated to Judge Belvin Perry that they’d be willing to work on the holiday. It’s possible, Haynes said, that the 10 a.m. ceremony could get increased coverage if the media are there for the ongoing murder trial.
Because Haynes truly believes this ceremony deserves a strong turnout among the public.
“We’ll be having a ceremony on the steps of the Orange County Courthouse, in honor of soldiers killed in Afghanistan,” said Haynes, a member of Blue Star Mothers and numerous veterans and military organizations. “Their names are on a wall and will be unvieled on Monday.”
Still, Haynes is among those who thinks Memorial Day has become less about remembering the courageous soldiers who gave their lives in defense of this country, and more about a day off from work, a barbeque, or a family gathering at the theme parks. She wonders if people still take the time to show their patriotic love of country on this holiday by taking even a few moments to honor those who died in the line of duty.
“The population I tend to associate with is different,” she said. “To me it seems like most of the veterans and military families are more cognizant of the purpose of Memorial Day, and are going to events and paying their respects. Within the military families, they are even more patriotic now.”
For others not directly impacted by the ongoing, now ten-year-old wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, she said, Memorial Day may mean something less substantial.
“It’s the unofficial kickoff to summer,” she said. “They’ll continue with the partying and barbeques. I think it varies and depends on the community, but there are some who think it’s not much different from any other weekend, except for the holiday on Monday.”
Those like Haynes who are either organizing ceremonies to honor fallen soldiers, or planning to attend one, are carrying on an honorable and noble tradition — one that Haynes hopes doesn’t get lost.
“I think they are trying to preserve what used to be traditional, and that got dropped by the wayside,” she said.
Dexter Miller, 64, served in the U.S. Navy between 1964 and 1967, at the very start of U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam. He recalls growing up in Salisbury, Maryland in the 1950s and early 1960s, at a time when his neighbors always participated in Memorial Day events that paid tribute to fallen soldiers.
“There was always a parade of some sort, and certainly a lot of picnics in the park and backyard barbeques,” Miller said. “In my little town, there seemed to be a greater acknowledgement and appreciation for what the day meant. Whether that was because it was a small town and a different time, I don’t know.”
Today, Miller said, he’s not quite sure Americans still use this holiday to honor their soldiers, the ones who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom. Even though many of today’s veterans are in their 20s, Miller said the younger generation seems far less interested in the historic meaning of Memorial Day.
“Self-absored is a good word,” he said. “As time has gone by, for all purposes, the people who keep the flame of those types of things are the older generation.”
David Raith, a contributor to Freeline Media Orlando, is a part of that generation. At age 24, he’s a veteran of the Marines, and notes that he’s always spent Memorial Day at the Orlando Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on Edgewater Drive to pay his respect to those he served alongside, and those still serving this nation overseas.
“I usually went to the VFW and they had a ceremony for all the veterans of foreign wars and the prisoners of war,” Raith said. “They set a table for them. It was symbolic of, if they came home, they would always have a place set for them. It’s a table that was set, but it was set behind some ropes. ‘They will never be forgotten’ will be one of the phrases they use during the ceremony.”
Every time he attended, Raith said, that ceremony always held special meaning for him, and it proved to be an emotional experience.
“It’s a pretty somber feeling knowing that some people will never come home, their families will never get closure,” he said.
But like Miller, Raith doesn’t believe a lot of people of his generation, particularly those who never enlisted in the Armed Services, care about the true meaning of this holiday.
“There is no reverence for Memorial Day, not anymore,” he said. “It’s just a holiday now. If you’d asked the younger generation who haven’t served or enlisted, they don’t care about Memorial Day. These people don’t care about paying tribute.”
That’s too bad, Raith said, because those who serve have answered an honorable call to protect and defend those who use the holiday to do nothing but enjoy themselves — a freedom they enjoy because of the sacrifice of our Armed Service members, Raith said.
“This country was built on the backs of others,” Raith said. “Most of the people who are Americans and live in America don’t even have an American flag.”
Miller said his advice to everyone in Greater Orlando, regardless of their age or whether they served in the military, is to “visit or attend whatever kind of Memorial Day service there is in your community. If there isn’t one, visit a military cemetery if there’s one close by. Place flowers on a grave. And at least think a little about the people who paid the ultimate price so we could have the freedom today to sit here … and goof off.”
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