Speaker reminds of purpose for Memorial Day

CHAMPAIGN — Memorial Day is about remembering those fallen in service to our country — and, an American Legion speaker said, about remembering the living, especially those who need health care.

Outside the American Legion service at the Mount Hope Cemetery Mausoleum, Civil War re-enactor Daniel Flora was in a woollen Union captain's uniform, standing near a siege gun from the defense of Washington, D.C.

"It's worth boiling in layers of wool to honor the men who kept the country together," said Flora, who was honoring a Civil War regiment from Illinois.

The American Legion Post 24 ceremony was about tradition — reciting the Gettysburg address and the Pledge of Allegiance, singing "God Bless America," firing a 21-gun salute and playing taps.

But main speaker Myron Kirby, the American Legion Department of Illinois treasurer from Farmer City, is old enough to remember Decoration Day, which until 1971 was celebrated every May 30.

The day was changed to the last Monday of May to give Americans a three-day holiday, Kirby said, and for many, the date represents when the pools open or a deadline for getting corn and beans in.

But Kirby said the day should honor the 1.3 million brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice, and remind all to take care of ailing survivors.

"Today, we honor. Tomorrow, let's fix it," Kirby said, referring to reports of scandals within the Veterans Affairs system.

Earlier this month, legion officials called for the resignation of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and his two top aides.

Kirby said evidence shows that in some cities, the VA has two separate waiting lists for veterans in need of care, and that veterans have died because they did not get attention in time.

He said a recent trip to the emergency room reminded him of how much time made a difference in serious heath issues.

Marty Lanman of Urbana recently lost a friend who was a veteran, and is buried nearby.

The Post 24 ceremony was the second Memorial Day event she had attended Monday.

"This day is about remembering," she said.

Glenna Meyer of Champaign brought her 6-year-old grandson Adam, who was drifting off in the 86-degree heat in the cemetery, to see grave decorations.

"His grandfather died in Korea, so I wanted him to see what this is all about," she said, looking at the flowers on graves.

Greg Miely of Champaign biked to the ceremony in a Declaration of Independence shirt.

He was never in the military, but has friends who have served, and respects their dedication.

Ten-year-old Ginny Friedman of Urbana was one of the wreath-layers in the ceremony, and said she was proud of her father Mark, who served in the Army from 1982 to 1990 and is a Post 24 leader.

"My cousin is serving in Germany now," she added.

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