There was a time when we were more patriotic in this country. Patriotism was an accepted, "normal" emotion. In those days of the 1950s-1960s we knew real life examples of "patriots;" they had just returned home from World War II and Korea. They walked the streets of our small town, owned or worked in the local businesses, and had sons and daughters who went to school with us. They served as Cub Scout den mothers, or scout troop leaders, or Little League baseball coaches. They marched in parades on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, many still wearing the old uniforms they had once worn in service, surplus Springfield or M-1 rifles on their shoulders, flags centered as they stepped down Maple Street. We had teachers in the school who helped instill in us a sense of who we were as Americans, and what it meant to be patriotic. We started each day with a pledge to the flag and "...to the republic for which it stands." and opened each baseball or softball game at the local park with the loudspeakers blaring out "The Star-Spangled Banner." And we faithfully observed "Decoration Day."
Memorial Day...or "Decoration Day" as it was known to most of us...was the unofficial start of summer activities. The school year had generally ended, so the boys and girls of our community looked forward to three months of "freedom" from classroom routines and occasional boredom. The weather was comfortable enough to hold family picnics, to visit the Ohio Caverns, to simply get out of the house and enjoy the great outdoors.
"Decoration Day" was the time to put colorful red, white, and blue crepe bunting on bicycles and motor scooters. It was the time to get out and wear patriotic shirts, pants, and skirts to add to the overall patriotic theme of the day. It was the time for the old veterans to don their uniforms...or at least their old uniform garrison cap if the other clothes no longer fit...to right-shoulder arms the old weapon drawn from the American Legion armory and to react to the military commands which were so ingrained in their memories. It was time for the Triad High School Marching Band to off load their yellow school bus or their family cars and to take up their parade positions near Dr. Polsley's home and office. It was time for the Cub Scouts in their blue hats, shirts, and pants, and bright yellow neckerchiefs to fall in behind their Den Mothers, with two of them offered the privilege of carrying the Pack or National flag. They were joined by the Boy Scouts, in brown uniforms complete with merit badge sashes, with a similar color guard proudly displaying the Troop and National flag. There were bicycles of every size, brand, and description, festooned with red, white and blue. Some pulled bright red wagons, similarly displayed, with a younger brother or sister holding the seat of honor. Even the family pets...dogs and cats... were decorated in the familiar red, white and blue theme. Scattered among the participants were one, two, or more men or women who had saddled up their faithful horses to take part in the morning's activities. The local volunteer fire department rolled out the old fire trucks, lights flashing and sirens occasionally blaring, to add to the parade. And there was a special car in which older war veterans were driven...those who had seen many such parades in the past and who were now the last of their kind.
At 10 A.M. the order was given to move out, and the make-shift parade began to wind its way from the old Knights of Pythias lodge toward the west. The band belted out the traditional marching music, the veterans in the nearby formation attempting to keep pace with the beat. Left, right, left, right, left, right as their boots met the pavement. A right turn was made at the corner where Clyde Arbuckle's home once stood, as the parade snaked its way along the highway. There was another right turn on to Maple Street, passing by the home of Burleigh and Helen Woodruff, and then past the Freshwater Funeral Home. As the procession made its way to the intersection of Maple and Sycamore Streets, the sidewalks were lined with the town folk who had come out to pay their respects. As the National flag passed by, they came to attention, hands formed in salute, or holding hats and caps over their hearts. And then they broke into applause.
The parade passed by the drug store, the Bank of North Lewisburg, Arbuckle's store, the post office, Junior James tavern, Goldie Millice's store, Spike's Barber Shop, Griff's Grill, Don Smith's restaurant, Swisher's Market, B. E. Willis' insurance office, and then made another right turn at the Cities Service gas station before continuing south one more block to make the final right turn. Soon the procession was back where it had started. It quickly disintegrated then as veterans, old folks, bandsmen, kids and pets broke formation to scurry away in other directions. Many loaded into cars or other vehicles to make the short drive to Maple Grove Cemetery for traditional "Decoration Day" observances there. Others returned to family or friends to spend the rest of their holiday.
At the cemetery, crowds gathered near the old cinder-block church (now a maintenance building) to enjoy a few musical numbers by the Triad High School band. Some boy or girl, previously selected to do so, would then recite from memory Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." There would be a prayer, and some appropriate Memorial Day remarks by someone chosen specifically for that honor. An honor guard would march to the grave site of the veteran who was to be singled out for military honors. The commands would be given, the rifle salute would be rendered, and a lone bugler would sound the hauntingly moving "Taps" in final tribute. The ceremonies ended, the crowd would disperse, many people wandering the grassy hills of the cemetery to visit the graves of family and friends. Everywhere, the grave sites were adorned with freshly-cut flowers, or flowering potted plans, or other symbols of love and loss.
Today, it's not always "politically correct" to show patriotism. Love of country, national pride, and respect for our war dead and veterans has become somewhat uncomfortable. Many small towns and large cities in this great land will not pay the respect and render the honors which these patriots so richly deserve on Memorial Day later this month.
Fortunately, there are places like North Lewisburg, and Woodstock, in which people will take the time to organize, take the time to carry on those old traditions, and take the time to honor their dead. The parades will march down the old, historic streets which are lined with caring townsfolk. There will be a scattering of applause, backs will straighten, hands will cross hearts, and eyes will glisten with tears as the veterans and their flags march by. And later they will gather on the outskirts of town, at that quiet, peaceful cemetery which sits along Spain Creek. And they will remember. Those are my kind of people, and I salute them.