American Legion hosts Memorial Day ceremony
Smithfield’s American Legion Post 49 held its annual Memorial Day ceremony at the veterans’ memorial on North Church Street 11 a.m. Monday.
The ceremony began with Smithfield High School’s JROTC color guard and remarks by Mayor Carter Williams.
“Memorial Day without its soldiers is like God without his angels. … But many people think this is a holiday for them as they go travel, they go on picnics, they own the backyard barbecue and having parties,” Williams said. “They really don’t know what Memorial Day is other than a day they don’t have to work on Monday or Friday, whichever day that they take off. … and they enjoy it not really knowing why.”
Town Council members Valerie Butler, Beth Haywood and Wayne Hall were also in attendance, as was Hardy District Representative Rudolph Jefferson of Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors, and Del. Emily Brewer, who represents Isle of Wight County and other localities in Virginia’s 64th House District in the General Assembly.
Brewer began her remarks by quoting former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who once said, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.”
“Later today when we go to backyard barbecues or pool parties, think about that quote, please,” Brewer said.
“Often times in today’s society our memories are short, maybe 140 characters or less,” she continued, referencing Twitter’s prior character limit. “But in order to keep the flame of freedom burning, we also have to commit ourselves to sharing with the next generation the tangible cost of their continued freedoms and privileges actually is: those that lay down their lives so we can sit here freely and peacefully assembled today.”
Smithfield Veterans of Foreign Wars Past Commander Herb De Groft also spoke, echoing Brewer’s remarks about educating the next generation.
“As a former school board member, I was always struck by the problems with our students being able to do well on the history SOL,” De Groft said, referring to the state-mandated standardized tests all Virginia students must take. “Such accounts can be found of these heroes in our public libraries or even by searching online with that outstanding invention called a smartphone.”
He then quoted two Civil War-era generals: Nathan Bedford Forrest, who fought for the Confederacy and became the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan after the war, and William Tecumseh Sherman, a Union general famed for having captured Atlanta, Ga., in 1864.
“War means fighting, and fighting means killing,” Forrest is recorded as having said. Sherman put it even more briefly, “War is hell.”
“Both were exactly correct,” De Groft said. “But we must never glorify the brutal business of war or soften its deadly cost. It’s cost America over 1 million [lives] over the time that this country’s been in existence. At the same time, however, we must aim to raise young people willing to defend their country if called upon to do so. Learning about those who came before them, who rallied to the flag, should help inculcate that patriotism. That’s our job, people.”
The event’s keynote speaker, Vietnam-era veteran Dale Chapman, then told the story of 19-year-old University of Connecticut freshman Cindy Beaudoin, who chose to deploy to Kuwait as an Army specialist in 1990 when Iraq invaded the Middle Eastern nation despite having scoliosis, a spinal condition that would have exempted her from having to travel to the combat zone with her unit.
She was the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, and “Cindy would hear none of it,” Chapman said.
“Of course I’m going. I couldn’t let my best buddies go off alone,” she is reported as having told a friend and fellow service member.
On Feb. 28, 1991, just hours after former President George H.W. Bush had declared a ceasefire to the Gulf War, Beaudoin was killed in action after her convoy struck a landmine
“Like many soldiers going to war, Spec. Beaudoin wrote a letter to be delivered to her parents in the event that she didn’t return, ‘I did not come here to be a hero,’ she wrote. ‘I came here because my country needed me to be here. As much as I hate being so far away from home I am here with thousands of other soldiers helping to bring down a very deranged tyrant. If I should die while helping to achieve this then I did not die in vain,’” Chapman read.
“Cindy Beaudoin did not die in vain, nor did any other American who we honor on Memorial Day,” Chapman said. “We are here today to honor all of our fallen heroes … No matter what critics can say about America, can the nation that produces such remarkable men and women be anything but the force of good? Can we do more to create a country that is worthy of such sacrifice? Can we insist that our policy makers always consider the true cost of their decisions and only send men and women to war when all other options have been fully considered?”
The ceremony concluded with the ringing of a bell 11 times to commemorate those lost in each of America’s wars, followed by an honor guard firing a salute and the playing of “Taps.”