BELDING — As more than 30 million Americans begin their various trips across the country for Memorial Day weekend and millions of others remain close to home to celebrate the holiday, Belding Mayor Ron Gunderson hopes that everyone will keep a single thought in their mind — remember your veterans.
“Why remember?” he asked rhetorically to a crowd gathered outside the Belding McDonald’s restaurant Friday morning. “We remember because sacrifice is meaningless without remembering. We remember in many ways through tears, sorrow, anger and in laughter.”
Gunderson was speaking during a special 21-gun salute ceremony put on by the Belding VFW Post 4406 Honor Guard on the front lawn of the restaurant.
He asked that people remember those who have served and died for their country, a sacrifice that has allowed all Americans to enjoy the next several days of the holiday weekend.
“The first memorial day was called Decoration Day, to decorate the graves of the Civil War soldiers,” he said. “Some still know it today as what they consider the official kick-off for summer. To others, Memorial Day is described as a sacrifice for veterans by remembrance.”
Gunderson described the act of forgetting our veterans as “dying a second death,” when a name is no longer brought up in a conversation.
He asked that people spend a moment this weekend to ensure that no veteran ever has to die that second death, that they be remembered for their service for all time.
“Memorial Day has given a day for men and women who died to preserve freedom for all of us not to die a second death,” he said. “Today, we should think of those who not only lost their lives, but those who left for war for our freedom, who came back with loss of limb and were never mentally the same.”
Gunderson was joined by Belding resident and Vietnam war veteran Dave Green, who delivered a prayer to honor both the veterans who have lost their lives and those who returned.
“We’re here this morning to celebrate the sacrifices of our brave men and women who have served our military,” he said. “We know that one percent of Americans are suffering all of these sacrifices for 99 percent of the rest of us. We just thank them this morning, we honor them, we praise them, for those sacrifices that they have made. They have fought and bled on foreign soil … in Europe, in Korea, in the bug-infested jungles of Vietnam. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, they have fought and died in the blazing sands of the desert.”
Green thanked the parents of those who have served, who at one time likely sent their child on a bus, not knowing if they would ever see them alive again.
“They made that sacrifice,” he said. “These youngsters fought for our freedoms and the principals on which our country was founded. We can’t thank them enough for all of those sacrifices that they’ve made. They now lie sleeping in graves throughout the world, and we ask Lord that you would have peace upon their souls and eternally bless them in every way imaginable.”
Green continued on, painting a heartbreaking picture of a wife having to bury her husband, having to explain to her children “why daddy won’t be coming home anymore.”
“He won’t be here to go to your first baseball game, he wont be here to see his daughter dressed up for the prom, to see them graduate or to see his grandchildren,” he said. “Because he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, we give them praise and honor this morning for all of these commitments.”
Both speeches were then followed by a flag-raising ceremony by honor guard member Thomas “Tag” Gleason, which was then followed by the 21-gun salute with fellow honor guard members Joel Pena and Gary Hoisington, who fired off their rifles in front of the restaurant as the small crowd watched respectfully.
Following the salute, honor guard member Roy Green used a ceremonial bugle to play a recorded version of “Taps” to honor and remember fallen veterans.
It concluded a ceremony that McDonald’s Department Manager Nancy Hopkins, who orchestrated the event, hopes will help others remember the reason for celebrating this weekend.
“This year, I wanted to do something new for the veterans, they come through my drive-through window all the time and tell me stories,” she said. “I try to come up with things that will touch the community, and I’m very happy with what happened today.”
Hopkins said she wanted to help people get into the mindset of remembering all of the veterans who have died to help preserve the freedoms of America, but do so a few days before Memorial Day, hence having the ceremony on Friday.
“This was very heartwarming today,” she said. “I can’t thank our veterans enough for everything they have done for us.”