SMETHPORT — Zach Pearson, McKean County director of Veteran Affairs, spoke about two misconceptions the public has about veterans during his address Monday at the Memorial Day program in Smethport.
Speaking on the steps of the courthouse, Pearson said, "Most of us are familiar with the old adage, 'Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.' That saying is grossly untrue on two accounts.
"First of all, old soldiers do die, often in combat; and so do young soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. Pearson cited those members of the U.S. armed forces, young and old, men and women from every branch of the military service, who die defending this nation and its way of life. "They fight in popular and unpopular wars in countries all over the world. They carry the American flag and the ideals and values for which it stands, to every corner of the world.
"They don't go for glory or honor or fame. They go because their duly elected officials, who represent the American people, including you and me, ask themselves to place themselves in harm's way."
Secondly, Pearson said that old soldiers just fade away is also a misconception. "Our fallen comrades didn't fade away; they were simply forgotten."
Pearson said this sad reality can be traced to the loss of the true meaning of Memorial Day. "To many Americans, Memorial Day is simply one of the federal holidays that bracket the summer season. For them, Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer, the opening of the community swimming pool, the start of a family vacation, the first barbecue of the year or a much-needed three-day vacation."
While some Americans confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day or Armed Forces Day, and it's appropriate to honor all the nation's veterans, living and deceased, for their immeasurable contributions to our nation, that is not the purpose of the ceremony today, Pearson said. "Memorial Day is an annual holiday to honor all armed service personnel killed in wars in defense of our country," he said.
Pearson also briefly traced the history of Memorial Day, originally observed as Decoration Day with parades, speeches and the decoration of graves with flowers and flags. First observed on May 30, 1868, for the purpose of decorating the graves of those who perished in the Civil War, that name continued to be observed until May 30, 1971, when most states adopted the new federal schedule for holiday observances. "In recent time," Pearson said, "we have also included fallen policemen, firemen and others who gave their lives in the performance of their duties to our society."
The forerunner of Memorial Day was born on Nov. 19, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln visited Gettysburg to participate in the dedication of a new national cemetery for those soldiers who died in the battle that proved to be the turning point of the Civil War.
Pearson then referred to a portion of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. "If President Lincoln were alive today, I believe he would be both amazed and disappointed because his address is better remembered than the fallen men to whom he dedicated it.
"But, there is still a spark of hope because you are here today," Pearson said, referring to the large audience who attended the event that was held in the sunshine, despite cloudy weather earlier in the day. "You made time in your schedules to remember these brave men and women. Your presence is a living example of what we an an American people should all be doing on this Memorial Day."
Smethport American Legion Commander Pat Miesowitz served as president of the day. Post Chaplain Jack Rosenswie offered the invocation.
Miesowitz recognized two World War II veterans who rode in the parade. Richard Rounsville, 91, a Navy veteran, has marked 69 years of continuous membership in the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Garvin Dille, with 70 years' membership in the American Legion, also served during the Korean War.
The Smethport Area High School Band, directed by Sarah Kois, played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and several other selections.
Army veteran Bob Funk commanded the memorial rifle squad in the Honor the Dead ceremony. Lenny Anderson, commander of the McKean County Post #2497, Veterans of Foreign Wars in Smethport and a Vietnam veteran, placed a wreath at the veterans' memorial marker on the east lawn of the courthouse.
Alec Morgan played "Taps," and Dakota Galloway played the echo. Both are SAHS band members.
Pearson thanked the veterans' groups, McKean County Maintenance Department and the personnel at the Good Growing Gardens for the flowers and crosses decorated with American flags that are on courthouse property.
The Rev. Frank Eppley, a decorated Vietnam soldier, offered some remarks before he gave the benediction. Speaking about those American who died in preserving our freedom, Eppley said, "They fought for and won for us a peace that was denied them. Their names are engraved in stone, but for many of us their names remain engraved upon our hearts."
Macy Smith, the first Miss Purple Heart, rode in the Memorial Day Parade Monday in Smethport. One of the requirements for this annual honor is to be related to a Purple Heart recipient, and Macy is the great-granddaughter of Roger Razey. If a boy is chosen, he would be known as the Purple Heart Prince, according to Cheryl Razey of the McKean County American Legion Riders, sponsors of this program.