Communities unite to celebrate Memorial Day

By Argen Duncan and Kevin Wilson: Cannon Connections

Amid a sea of flag-adorned gravesites, with a gunship en route, Col. Philip Frazee reminded a crowd Monday that the day was not about cookouts and time at the lake, but the soldiers who gave their lives to make those events possible.

“It may be easy to think of Memorial Day as another three-day weekend, another break for summer, another cookout,” said Frazee, the former 27th Fighter Wing vice commander, speaking to a crowd of about 150 at Lawn Haven Cemetery in Clovis. “As all of you out here know, Memorial Day is more than that.”

Residents in Clovis and Portales found time on their extra day off to remember the fallen.

Frazee, the current Air Force Junior ROTC instructor at Clovis High School, was featured speaker at the short morning ceremony. He spoke of the wars that laid the foundation for America’s superpower status and the millions of veterans who died during those wars. He also took a few minutes to personally name some of the soldiers who joined their ranks in overseas conflicts so far in 2010.

Formerly known as Decoration Day, the holiday was first created to honor Union soldiers in the Civil War, and was expanded after World War I to honor fallen soldiers from all wars.

The holiday in 1971 was officially positioned by Congress as the last Monday in May, but Frazee said an unofficial 3 p.m. remembrance was added so Americans wouldn’t forget the day during times of peace.

Frazee advised the crowd to, “set your watches, your clocks, your phones, whatever you use” for 3 p.m. to take a moment to honor those who gave all.

Following his speech, an MC-130W flew over the cemetery to conclude the ceremony. Maj. Mae-Li Allison of Cannon Air Force Base’s public affairs office said the gunship from the 73rd Special Operations Squadron flew to Logan for a similar event before returning for the Clovis ceremony.

Sid Turner of the Curry and Roosevelt Counties Joint Veteran’s Council said the event would not be possible without the help of veterans’ organizations, each carrying their own flags at the ceremony.

“If you are a veteran,” Turner said, “and you don’t belong to one, you don’t know what you’re missing.”

The organizations placed most of the gravesite flags at veterans’ gravesites throughout Clovis and Portales.

With the ceremony done, citizens prepared to spend the day showing appreciation to veterans, as the Ladies Auxiliary of American Legion Post 117 prepared to do with a cookout at Post 3015.

The auxiliary members attended Monday’s ceremony in T-shirts reading, “Veterans Still Serving.”

Auxiliary President Elaine Mitchell said it was important to honor the fallen at every opportunity, and to keep in mind those fighting today.

“Even though they’re still around, they’re still in our hearts and minds,” Mitchell said. “We support them, dead or alive.”

The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the local American Legion post held separate Memorial Day ceremonies at the Portales Cemetery.

The UDC ceremony began with the dedication of a headstone for Confederate veteran George W. Wood.

“We are grateful for the records of the past which bring inspiration and courage,” said UDC member Jan Ross during the dedication. “We are appreciative of the lessons taught by memorials to events and deeds of long ago. We pray that our lives may be always patterned to give our devotion and service as did our forefathers.”

UDC member Janelle Foster said Wood was born in Arkansas in 1840, enlisted in the Confederate infantry in Houston in 1862 and was living in Portales with his family by 1903. UDC members are almost certain he is buried between his wife and son in Portales Cemetery, although they were not able to find records of his death, Foster said.

After the dedication, attendees honored the 26 Confederate veterans buried in the cemetery and heard about the Sons of Confederate Veterans 1st Texas Brigade, who provided an honor guard, from Commander Rick Uhlig.

Later, during the American Legion ceremony, Chief Master Sgt. William W. Turner of Cannon Air Force Base challenged listeners to show by action that they understood what military members had died for and to stand for those ideals. He said personnel in all military branches continue to serve.

“They defend the freedom Americans cherish so intensely. … The freedoms we enjoy as Americans have been secured by the blood of the military service member,” Turner said.

Even as people gather to remember lives lost, he continued, the fighting continues and will bring more losses. As long as man walks the Earth, conflict will happen, Turner said, and American service members will be called to those places.

“We serve for those who cannot serve,” he said. “We fight for those who cannot fight … We do these things not for glory, but for the ever-righteous cause of freedom.”

The program also included a tribute to Portales’ Gold Star Mothers, Myrtie Smith and Lila Bryant, who both lost sons in the Vietnam War.

“These Gold Star Mothers have made the ultimate sacrifice for human freedom,” said local American Legion Auxiliary President Judy Hall.

These mothers understand the nation’s freedom is not to be taken for granted, she added.

After the program, Smith said the service was wonderful and, in fact, the best ever. The importance of Memorial Day, she said, is “to honor our soldier boys.”