Across the nation, families that lost loved ones and communities that have had sons and daughters return home in flag-draped coffins will spend Memorial Day reminiscing and telling their stories.
For the past 20 years, Williamson County has held a Memorial Day service to remember and honor county residents who died in military service as well as those who answered the call, returned home and have since left this world. This year’s service is set for 10 a.m. Monday in Veteran’s Park at Five Points in Franklin.
Congressman. Mark Green (7th District), a retired U.S. Army Ranger, a member of the Night Stalkers and a surgeon, will be the guest speaker. The Community Band will perform patriotic songs and 31 Civil War pavers will be dedicated. Limited seating will be provided, so those attending are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket just in case.
“We should never forget the men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” Green said.
Green says that on each Memorial Day his thoughts go to his fellow Night Stalkers who paid the ultimate price. Their names are inscribed on a wall at Fort Campbell and in the hearts of the families they left behind.
“Memorial Day reminds us we are part of something much larger than ourselves; that there is a cause worth dying for,” he said. “That cause is freedom and the republic in which it lives.”
Turning back pages of history
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first observed shortly after the end of the Civil War.
In the spring, grieving widows, mothers and sisters cleaned the graves of those who died during the war, decorated them with flowers and recited prayers. By the late 1860s, towns and cities began traditions of tributes and ceremonies for their fallen soldiers.
In 1868, Gen. John Logan, a leader of Northern Civil War veterans, lobbied for a nationwide day of remembrance to be held each year on May 30 because “it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.” The idea caught on and by 1890 all northern states had set May 30 as Decoration Day and an official state holiday while the southern states continued to each celebrate on different dates.
After World War I ended, Decoration Day evolved into Memorial Day to commemorate Americans who died in all wars. It wasn’t until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, that Memorial Day was declared a federal holiday and to be on the last Monday in May, effective in 1971.
Veterans Park turns 20
As a project to commemorate Williamson County and Franklin’s Bicentennial in 1999, Col. Stan Tyson, U.S. Army (ret.), Nancy Conway, then president/CEO of the Williamson County-Franklin Chamber of Commerce, Judy Hayes, a county commissioner and others were charged with developing the Williamson County Veterans Park and the annual Memorial Day service. Twenty years later, the ceremony continues to bring the community together — rain or shine — to remember and to keep memories alive.
According to Tyson, Memorial Day is a time to recognize every person who wore the uniform and lost their life while serving this country.
Tyson says that when he looks at the park he had a hand in developing and the names on the bricks laid in the pathways, he feels like he is in a cemetery.
“The bodies aren’t there, but the memories are,” he said. “I think of some of the kids I went to school with. I put bricks down for several.”
There are bricks with names from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and wars up to and including the War on Terror.
Among the bricks are “a lot of strangers who are no longer strangers,” said Col. Tyson. “They all have a common bond. They all served.”
Judy Hayes grew up in a family of men who served in the military. The stories she heard at family gatherings became a part of her.
“On Memorial Day, I think of those who gave so much so we can enjoy the freedoms we have,” she said. “It bothers me that so many people don’t really realize those sacrifices.”
Veterans Park was created to be a place to remember and keep memories alive, she said.
“We wanted something for the Bicentennial that would be lasting,” Hayes added.
For Conway, Memorial Day “is a time to think about all the men and women who gave their lives for us; who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our country.”
Jeanine Hinkle, who is Williamson County veterans services director, an Army veteran who served during the War on Terror and an organizer of the Memorial Day service, said she “transitioned out of the military not knowing a single person who had lost their life or even been injured while in combat.”
Since she became the veterans service officer almost three years ago, Hinkle has listened to stories of service and sacrifice and loss.
“The telling allows (the veterans) to honor their fallen friends by remembering them,” Hinkle said. “I have the privilege of being the one who hears the stories when perhaps no one else has, and it’s sacred to me.”
She also remembers the older veterans, “crusty, old warrants” as the old pilots are called, who helped her find her way as a leader and a professional and are now gone.
“I feel a sense of loss greater than just how much knowledge and expertise is gone” she said. “It’s the people and what they meant to me and the many lives they impacted that I grieve. I miss them.”
Memorial Day became personal for Gunnery Sgt. Neph Feliciano, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.) in May 2007, when his nephew, Michael Jaurigue was killed by an incendiary explosive device in Iraq.
Michael had surprised his mother when he came home for Mothers Day.
“A week and a half later, he came home in a box,” Feliciano said.
“That’s when I took the day seriously,” he said. “He was a young soldier who was motivated and wanted to serve his country. I honor Michael and others who died. Memorial Day is a time to reflect on those lost in battle and pray for their families suffering — who will always carry the pain. When you loose someone, it means so much more.”
Feliciano is the Veterans Court coordinator and one of the Memorial Day ceremony organizers.