'In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row.'
— John McCrae
Their ranks are dwindling.
At one time, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars-Post 313 would march down Main Street in Youngstown on Memorial Day to the 1812 Cemetery near Old Fort Niagara. That same scenario out of the past occurred for decades in cities, towns and villages across the U.S.
On Monday, some vets will take a shuttle ride from the Post 313 to the cemetery because most of them have difficulty walking any distance. Many who served in the military will be, of course, part of the observance because they're on the long list of names read, as World War II Marine veteran Kenny Edwards taps the bell softly in the background.
In addition to handful of loyal VFW members and some local government officials, about 20 area residents gather under century-old trees and near flag-bedecked tombstones for the tribute.
As he has for years, Lou Custode, a popular Western New York musician, will play the national anthems of the U.S. and Canada. A vet will read a statement about Memorial Day and its origin during President Lincoln's administration. The list will be read, wreaths laid and the traditional taps sounded.
A number of the veterans to be posthumously honored were lucky enough to make it home after the war. They returned to their jobs, raised families and lived out their dreams, hopefully, like countless other Americans.
Some, of course, didn't make it back. They rest under small white crosses and sprawling manicured lawns in wind-swept sites in Luxembourg and Normandy, among other hallowed grounds. They're the ones we tend to forget.
Although they died —some thousands of miles apart, —in the fighting in Germany, France, on beachheads in Italy or islands in the South Pacific — they were united in their mission, the relentless fight for freedom.
Today Post 313 has about 125 members, not all active. Gary Zanardi of Youngstown, a Vietnam veteran who helps coordinate the Memorial Day program, said an effort is under way to encourage more members in the Ladies Auxiliary-VFW, which has always been an important part of the service organization.
"Though many of the regular veterans from World War 11 have passed away in the past 10 or 15 years, we've been able to persuade vets of Vietnam, as well as some (male and female) from Iraq and Afghanistan to join the post," Zanardi said,
It is common knowledge that many Vietnam-era veterans returning home had no interest in joining any organization focusing on the war or their role in it. "In fact, at first I didn't even want anyone to know that I was a veteran," Zanardi said, noting that some old-timers ( e.g World War 11 vets) weren't excited about welcoming us into their organization." That atmosphere no longer prevails, Zanardi said.
FOOTNOTE: Aware of the reduced ranks in their organization, the VFW Post 313, 434 Third St., Youngstown, is hosting a one-hour reception, open house and membership drive — after the park ceremony — at the post, starting at noon. Zanardi said the various categories of membership will be explained since the eligibility guidelines have changed in recent years to accommodate more veterans and their relatives.
Enjoy the holiday.
Remember our veterans too, especially those who made the supreme sacrifice.