In contrast, Rockford’s traditional Memorial Day celebration, sponsored by American Legion Post 102, focused on the true purpose of the holiday-to honor the men and women who have given their lives to defend our freedom.
As City Manager, Michael Young said in his remarks at the City Cemetery as part of today’s events, this is not a day meant to mark the start of summer, to open the pool or the summer cottage, or when our biggest decision is what to cook on the grill.
It is day when we take time to remember. It is a day when we stop to honor those who have paid the ultimate price to serve our country.
We will have our opportunity to celebrate the pleasures of our lives in a few weeks during our annual Start of Summer Festival. We will stuff ourselves at food booths, wander through arts and craft booths, watch our children gather candy thrown from floats of every imaginable type along our parade route, and shout out the obligatory oooh’s and aahhh’s during the fireworks displays.
But today is not a time for that in Rockford. Memorial Day in Rockford is marked more reverently.
This year, as in the past, a modest parade featuring veterans, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Rockford High School Band proceeded along Main Street. It stopped between Courtland and Bridge Streets for the playing of the National Anthem, a prayer, and some comments honoring heroes from the area and elsewhere.
The parade then proceeded through town to the City Cemetery where a simple ceremony included Star Spangled Banner played by the junior high band, a prayer, comments from Michael Young, and a 21-gun salute. Red and white carnations were then placed on veterans’ graves, after which the solemn sound of Taps was heard echoing from the distance.
Memorial Day was first celebrated in the 1860’s as a day set aside to decorate the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers. In fact, it was originally known as Decoration Day for that reason.
Over the years, its meaning evolved to include the honoring of those who had died in all of America’s wars.
In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May, creating a three-day weekend.
This Memorial Day in Rockford hundreds of people-including entire families with children of all ages-followed the parade the entire way. Some walk, some ride bikes, some roller blade, and some drive, but all were there for the same reason -to keep the true spirit of this uniquely American holiday alive.
It is a brief but inspiring experience. If you have never attended it, you may want to plan on doing so next year. Mark it on your calendar, Monday, May 31, 2010 at 9 a.m. You’ll be glad you did.