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Dearborn Heights ceremony calls for remembering Memorial Day's real meaning

Highlights of the May 26 Dearborn Heights Memorial Day ceremony at St. Hedwig Cemetery and Mausoleum.
Highlights of the May 26 Dearborn Heights Memorial Day ceremony at St. Hedwig Cemetery and Mausoleum.
Photos by Gary L. Thompson

The real meaning of the Memorial Day holiday was the predominant message delivered at Monday's 33rd Annual Memorial Day Mass and Military Honors ceremony at the St. Hedwig Cemetery and Mausoleum.

Dearborn Heights veterans and others gather at the annual Memorial Day Mass and Military Honors at St. Hedwig Cemetery May 26.
Photo by Gary L. Thompson

Wreaths were presented by representatives of several Dearborn Heights veteran posts: John Lyskawa-Tutro VFW. Post No. 7546, Carl E. Stitt American Legion Post No. 232, and the Polish Legion of American Veterans Post No. 16. Dearborn Heights city officials also laid a wreath during the ceremony.

The May 26 mass was celebrated by Father Anthony Fox of the Conventual Franciscan Friars (St. Bonaventure Province). In his homily, Fox said people regard Memorial Day as an unofficial start of summer; jamming the roads, beaches and resorts as they fire up the barbecue, head to the beach or catch the X-Men movie; “kids counting down to the last day of school, and parents are counting down to the first day of summer camp.

“We often overlook though, the roots of this long weekend,” Fox said. “Like so many things, it's been commercialized so it's all about the newest movie and the biggest sales, and getting a great rate for rental on the lakes.

“But it's not about that. Memorial Day is about remembering, memorializing those who gave their lives in time of war. Around the globe, there are places where thousands of so many great generations are laid to rest,” he said.

Examples Fox cited: more than 9,000 American soldiers lying on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach (most of whom were killed in the Normandy invasion and ensuing military operations), many of those who fell in the fighting after the capture of Rome lying just outside of Florence in Italy, the largest of all U.S. military cemeteries (Manila American Cemetery), and the Arlington National Memorial Cemetery on home soil being “the place we usually think of as honor those fallen” (in conflicts ranging from the Civil War, both world wars, Korea and Vietnam to those type of campaigns waged in Iraq and Afghanistan).

It is well that there are tombs for the unknown soldier which have been honored for most of the 20th Century, Fox added, because the ritual of the Unknown Soldier is symbolic of honoring all the millions fallen in World War I, “his final resting place, and identity, is known to God alone.

“On a larger level, in the big picture, it's also a reminder of something important about our character—we are a people who crave remembrance,” Fox said. “We need to honor those we've lost, we don't want them forgotten, we need them to live on in memory.

“We saw a vivid example of this past week, with the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum in downtown New York. We carry that experience as a country in our hearts, and to read about the museum in newspaper accounts of its opening, it sounds like something even more profound. The museum takes our memories and recollections, and makes them tangible,” he said.

The ordinary objects he listed as taking on “extraordinary meaning” included a scorched telephone, crumpled metro-car, clothing recovered in ash, steel beams in the shape of a cross, abandoned fire truck, and a pair of eyeglasses left behind.

“In reading the descriptions in the papers, it all comes rushing back, but part of us needs that,” Fox said. “Whether it's memorializing 9/11, or the Holocaust, or Vietnam, or Iraq, Afghanistan, Normandy—they are parts of our history that we need to somehow preserve so they don't slip away from us.

“We are a people who crave remembrance. In fact, our theology is constructed around it,” he said.

What was being celebrated in the cemetery that morning, the source and summit of the faith, Fox continued, was founded on “six very simple words, 'Do this in memory of me.'” The gathering was not merely for praying or breaking bread, he said, “we are to remember what was given to us, the one who gave it, who gave for us his life, and we don't want to forget.

“And I think that each of us in some very human way also does not want to be forgotten,” Fox said. “We need to know that we count, which is why this day carries so much meaning and so much hope.”

The passage from John's gospel read the previous day on the sixth Sunday of Easter, Fox noted, was the final discourse in John, the final discourse by Jesus to his followers at the Last Supper and “the last we'll hear from Jesus” in the liturgical calendar until his Ascension, setting the stage for Pentecost Sunday two weeks from now. In that discourse, Jesus promised he would not leave his followers orphans, but he would come to them, and the Holy Spirit would also be coming at Pentecost to be their advocate always.

“But in a very particular way it reassures us, it uplifts us and tells us something we need to know, that the God who asks us to remember tells us he remembers too,” Fox said. “We will not be forgotten.

“How often do we, who need to remember, forget that. How often we think God has abandoned us, that he's just not listening. How often we feel forgotten.

“But if we need a gentle reminder, here it is,” he said.

The main speaker of the military ceremony, Col. Rod Faulk (who had been mobilized from the active reserves three times for overseas service) also emphasized that Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance, and it is important to always remember the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day.

“While many Americans celebrate the holiday with family and friends at barbecues and ballgames,” Faulk said, “We simply must pause to remember to pay our respects to our fallen warriors, to reflect on their ultimate sacrifice, a sacrifice made so we can enjoy liberty and freedom of barbecue and baseball.”

Faulk noted that the oath sworn by all soldiers upon enlistment, “I, Rodney L. Faulk, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the U.S. against all enemies foreign and domestic...” does not contain any caveats “like as long as it's convenient for me and my family” or “as long as it's low-risk duty and I don't have to deploy overseas” or an end date. In fact, he added, “these outstanding Americans” will often continue serving long beyond their enlistment period.

This observation, he emphasized, includes the members of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and members of the families of those enlisted in the Military. Faulk was interrupted by applause when he offered his thanks to them for their “service and sacrifice for our warriors.”

Faulk also pointed out that there was an irony in the preference of many Americans to spend Memorial Day watching marathons of reality shows or dramas on TV, or relaxing with recycled works of fiction like “Godzilla” and the “Amazing Spiderman II.” Those latter two movies have grossed over 350 million dollars from having 8,000 combined screens over three weeks, “and no doubt those sales will expand this weekend.” On that same weekend, another movie opened that Saturday, but the closest of the 55 theaters carrying it is in Columbus, OH.

The movie, “The Hornets' Nest,” is a documentary by a Peabody-winning and Emmy-winning journalist Mike Boettcher, and his son Carlos. They shot footage of soldiers in action with three brigades of the 101st Airborne Division and 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines. The numerous places these brigades slogged through are unknown to most Americans, Faulk said, like the Barwala Kalay Valley.

“They chronicled the heroism, humanity, sacrifice and loss of great American patriots, whose love of country is truly impressive,” Faulk said. “Through the entire movie, soldier after soldier expresses his primary motive for moving towards the sounds of war, rather than away from it, doing their duty and protecting their band of brothers.

“One would think that the grandest reality of all, the life and death struggles of Americans on the battlefield, might gain a little more attention and interest than a mere 55 theaters,” he said.

In reviewing the more than one million Americans who have died worldwide in fulfilling their oaths to defend liberty; starting with the Revolutionary War; Faulk said the more than 116,000 Americans who paid the price for freedom in the hedgerows, Marne River, Cantigny and Argonne Forest in France in World War I; “paid it for you and for me, and they did not even know us.”

“In World War II, great Americans left their homes and families, and took great risk to secure freedom from evil tyranny and oppression,” Faulk said. “Like the Pilgrims who settled America with little more than the shirts on their backs, these soldiers ventured into places unknown to face the unknown.”

Faulk asked the audience if their children were studying the battles in places like Kasserine Pass, Anzio, Cherbourg, Normandy, the Ardennes, Gulf of Leyte, Bataan and Cabanataun; in operations with code names like Torch, Overlord, Cobra and Flintlock; all accounting for the war's 405,000 American deaths. He further questioned if their children knew of the Bataan Death March and the Ghost Soldiers at Cabanatuan; the names of generals or admirals like Patton, Bradley, Nimitz, Halsey, and MacArthur; or even the name of a fellow Michigander like Lt. Col. Matt Urban.

He went on to suggest those children may have never heard of obscure places like “Hill 282” or “Old Baldy”, or even places like the Chosin Reservoir, Husan or Taegu. The harsh conditions endured by the soldiers, and fighting, in the Korean War cost the 36,000 American dead “their entire future for your freedom and mine.”

In Vietnam, Faulk continued, the soldiers endured hardship through battles like Khe Sanh, Hat Dich and Dak To. The last battle alone cost Americans 361 of the 58,209 killed throughout the war, he said, and “how much time in the classroom is devoted to studying places and battles like Dak To, where so many Americans preserved our way of life with their blood.”

While Desert Storm claimed less than 300 lives in its rapid campaign, Faulk said that almost 7,000 since have fallen in the war against terrorism.

“I wonder how many Americans have no knowledge of American toughness, grit, determination and bravery at places like Ramadi, Fallujah, Tal-Afar and Umm Gasr?” he said. “Where brave Americans, not generals, like Chris Monroe, Elizabeth Jacobson, Nathan Field, Robert Johnson and Steve Morin shed their blood doing their duty.

“I recite these few places and information in remembrance of the sacrifice these Americans made, in the hopes of keeping these sacrifices alive in our collective memory. All gave some, and some gave all, because freedom is not free. As I join with you today to honor our fallen warriors, past and present, in the solemn observance of Memorial Day, I'd like to close with a verse from John, 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'

“Thank you. May God bless you, and God bless the United States of America,” Faulk concluded.

During the mass, there were readings from the books of John, Romans and Ecclesiastes. The music opened with “America the Beautiful;” and continued with a responsory based on Psalm 116: 12-13, 15 and 16bc, 17-18; the hymn “In the Garden,” the Anamnesis, and “Let There be Peace on Earth.” With the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as the communion hymn and “You Raise Me Up” sung; the mass ended with the U.S. armed forces medley; starting with the Navy Hymn and continuing on through the Coast Guard, Air Force, Army and Marines before concluding with “My Country, 'Tis of Thee.”

Prayers were offered on behalf of Pope Francis, Archbishop Allen, clergy and laity; as well as all who are honored in memory that day, “our mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, sisters, brothers—who are held dear to our hearts;” and for all buried and entombed at St. Hedwig's Cemetery and Mausoleum. There were further petitions offered for the justice and wisdom of civic leadership, for the protection of all members of the armed forces, on behalf of “all those who need our prayers” and those suffering natural disasters in particular, that all assembled that day celebrating the Eucharist receive the graces of being taught God's love and peace in their everyday lives, and for all private and personal petitions.

Memorial Day Chairman David Endyke directed the presenters from the various Dearborn Heights veterans posts to make their way to the wreaths and lay them one-by-one. Laying the wreaths were David Lee and Larry Kalczynski from Lyskawa, VFW Ladies' Auxiliary Pres. Leah Lucy and Sr. Vice Pres. Shirley Lee, Vinnie Spurgis and Ron Zarembo from the VFW Mens Auxiliary, Stitt Post Comdr. Casmir Wegzyn and Jr. Vice Comdr. Bob Chapman, American Legion Ladies Auxiliary Pres. Kim Frazier and Laura Chappell, Sons of the American Legion Comdr. Bill Barnes and John Niemec, PLAV Post Comdr. John Cortez and Adjutant Jerry McFee, and city officials Mayor Daniel S. Paletko and City Clerk Walter J. Prusiewicz.

After the Lyskawa and Stitt Post joint military honor guard did their presentation of the gun salute and Taps, Endyke thanked the guard and the cemetery people. He invited people to walk through the gate to the Lyskawa Post for refreshments and hot dogs after the service.

Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, Faulk had told the gathering, when flowers were placed on the graves in Arlington Cemetery. It was first officially proclaimed May 5, 1868 in General Order No. 11 by Gen. John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.

New York was the first state to recognize the holiday in 1873, and all northern states recognized it by 1890. The South refused to acknowledge the day and honored its dead on separate days until after World War I, when the holiday was changed from honoring the Civil War fallen to honoring Americans who died in any war. Almost every state now celebrates the holiday on the last Monday in May (designated by Congress in the National Holiday Act of 1971, P.L.-363).

Several southern states continue to have a separate day for honoring Confederate war dead: Jan. 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and Jefferson Davis' birthday on June 3 in Louisiana and Tennessee.

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