Out of his 12 years of service in the United States Navy, there is one day that will forever remain in Milton resident Dave Jones’s memory. In April 1989, while stationed on the USS Iowa battleship, a gun exploded during a routine gunnery exercise, killing 47 of his shipmates.
Each April, he attends a memorial service in honor of these men who died in the line of duty. A collage featuring all 47 of their photographs hangs on a prominent place in his home. And while they are not far from his heart every day of the year, Jones said, the experience has certainly made Memorial Day more meaningful to him.
“Everyone’s taught to remember those who died in service to our country,” he added. “I actually knew and served with those who served and died.”
This year, as most if not all Memorial Day parades and other activities are canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, it may be a prime time for individuals and families to focus more intentionally on the true meaning of the holiday.
Ginger Griffiths, treasurer of the Selinsgrove VFW Post 6631 Auxiliary, suggests flying a flag at half-staff for the day. In addition, “Families can visit a local cemetery and put flowers on graves marked with flags,” she said. “Parents can explain to their children what veterans have fought for and talk about the veterans in their own families.”
Or, she said, “Reach out to a veteran neighbor and thank him for his service.”
That’s what Sunbury VFW Post 1532 commander Dan Alderson, 1SG, retired, plans to do. He said he and his wife are planning to invite some older veterans they know to their house for a barbecue (while of course following social distancing guidelines). They are encouraging others to do the same.
“There are so many out there,” he said. “Some of them need to be picked up, because they can’t get around as well anymore.”
Showing them they haven’t been forgotten is as much a part of Memorial Day as remembering those who lost their lives.
“I know Memorial Day is about the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Alderson said. “But if you’re able to congregate and talk about one of your friends that you lost — it’s a chance to remember them together.”
A number of veterans organizations also take time this time of year to place flags on the graves of veterans. Alderson said the VFW will be partnering with the Sunbury American Legion commander to place flags on graves throughout Northumberland County. They will be joined by several of Alderson’s cadets in the JROTC program at Shikellamy High School.
Jones believes involving the younger generation in commemorating and understanding the real meaning of Memorial Day is important. And this year, with the many cancellations and postponements of Memorial Day activities, there is an opportunity to do that in even greater ways.
He suggests that families take advantage of technology and look up the history and meaning of Memorial Day, and find that “It’s not just a day off, or the picnics. It is to remember the ones who gave their lives so we can have freedoms.”
He also suggested that families go on a virtual field trip or even go visit a local cemetery and look for the veteran markers. Or perhaps they could take time to learn about someone in their family history who may have died in service.
Now more than ever, people are thinking about the rights they have had as Americans, and Memorial Day is a time when those privileges can be especially appreciated.
“People have found many of the freedoms they are used to have been suspended during this pandemic,” Griffiths said. “Everyone should take a moment to appreciate the rights they normally have due to soldiers that have given their lives for that freedom.”
According to a spokesman from the national office, The American Legion this year has encouraged Legionnaires, veterans, and all Americans to consider lighting “candles of honor” in remembrance of the country’s fallen military heroes, and placing the candles on their front porches at dusk on Memorial Day.