By Ron VandenBoom
It is perhaps the most somber of all holidays a time for remembering those individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.
It is today called Memorial Day a title slightly less descriptive than its original label as Decoration Day, but with a meaning that has remained the same. It is a time of remembering, of honoring, and of recognizing that freedom has a price. A price that has been paid with the currency of human life and the tears of Americas mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.
Where the tradition of a nationally observed day of remembrance began is subject to debate, but most scholars agree that the tradition began shortly after the end of the Civil War.
General John A. Logan, first commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, on May 5, 1868, issued General Order 11 requiring all men in his command to spend some portion of May 30 as a day to honor the dead by policing grave sites and observing such ceremonies as their duties allow.
Even prior to Logans General Order 11, the end of the American Civil War found women of the North and the South cooperating in their efforts to tend to the dead on both side of the conflict through various auxiliaries.
Cassandra Oliver Moncure, a Virginia woman, is said to be responsible for coordinating the efforts of several groups into a single ceremony on May 30 because it corresponded with the Day of Ashes in France. The Day of Ashes commemorated Napoleon Bonapartes ashes being returned to France after his death on the Island of St. Helena.
May 30 has been the traditional day of observance for more than 100 years but the National Holiday Act of 1971 included Memorial Day as one of the holidays that should be observed on a Monday to create a three-day weekend.
Eight to 900 flags will be placed on the graves in Highland Cemetery by local veterans organizations as a prelude to ceremonies beginning Monday, May 31, at the Hill County Courthouse.
A parade is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. that will run from Havres VFW Club to the Hill County Courthouse for the start of the Memorial Day Program.
A prayer will begin the Courthouse portion of the program at 11 a.m. and will be followed by a reading of the names of newly deceased veterans and the laying of memorial wreaths. A 21 gun salute and the playing of taps will follow.
Honor will be paid this year to veterans of all wars by the planting of a remembrance tree on the Courthouse lawn.
The honor guard will return to the VFW Club for the main program that is expected to begin about 11:30 a.m. Poems and remembrances will be offered during the ceremonies by Mildred Schneider and by Marlene Hannah with the keynote address being given by Rodney Murphy, Chief Petty Officer First Class Retired.
Bill Marquardt will also perform several patriotic musical selections and Rev. John Chapman will offer the benediction.
A free beef stew lunch will be provided after the ceremonies.
One of those who may attend Memorial Day Ceremonies is Havre resident Elly Rennick a U.S. Army veteran who served her country in the Womens Army Corps in the early 1950s and who just recently returned from the site of one of Americas most renown battles the battle for the island of Okinawa.
Okinawa was the last Japanese stronghold invaded by the U.S. in the Pacific during WW II. It was also a home island for the Japanese actual Japanese territory, for which the already determined Japanese were willing to fight viciously.
The 15 mile wide 65 mile long island has grown into a modern state Rennick told the Daily News, complete with shopping centers, business districts, and a booming economy. But the Okinawa Rennick knew when she was stationed there was less than 10 years removed from the horrors of the war.
Only 600,000 Okinawans lived on the island when she worked there as a Stock Control Specialist and was responsible for ordering in the food for the American troops who still occupied the island. Today there are 1.2 million residents and the island doesnt look much like it did in the early 1950s.
Rennick returned to Okinawa in April, landing on Easter Sunday.
She returned, she said, to visit her Okinawan freind, Masako ,who she met more than 40 years ago. But between visiting, shopping and remembering, she also took time to visit the Everlasting Rays of Peace Memorial. It is a memorial built to honor those who died during WW II on all sides of the conflict.
Diagrams of the Peace Memorial show it is divided into three sections, one for Okinawans, one for Japanese, and one for Americans, who died on the island during the war.
The names of more than 350,000 soldiers and civilians grace the five foot high black granite slabs that zig zag through the memorial grounds speaking silently of the tragedy of a time 54 years ago when battle raged.
More than 12,500 of these names are American soldiers and 120,000 were Okinawan civilians killed by either friendly fire or by the Japanese who according to Rennick, killed many of their own people because they believed them to be pro-America.
If you could even speak English you didnt dare because you would automatically be shot, Rennick said.
More than 240,000 Japanese names also can be found on the memorial.