A member of the Upshur County Honor Guard sounds "Taps" during Sunday's Memorial Day ceremony jointly hosted by VFW Post 3663 and American Legion Post 7. / Photo by Katie Kuba

Somber Memorial Day service offers reminder of large role Appalachians played in U.S. military conflicts

BUCKHANNON – For some, Memorial Day marks the happy beginning of a poolside summer filled with barbecues and backyard shenanigans.

But for the fellow soldiers, families and friends of the women and men who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, the three-day weekend commemorates a somber event honoring the lives lost in a monumental sacrifice for safety and freedom.

A small group gathered in Heavner Cemetery Sunday to pay respects to the fallen during a midafternoon Memorial Day service jointly hosted by VFW Post 3663 and American Legion Post 7. VFW Post Commander Larry Brown made a distinction between Veterans Day in November, which celebrates the service of all past and present Veterans, and Memorial Day, which is specially dedicated to troops who died while serving in the U.S. military.

“This is is about the men who died with their boots on, in combat,” Brown said. “They died right there, and we have a lot of respect for those people who did that. That’s why we are able to be here today, because of them.”

VFW Post 3663 Commander Larry Brown addresses a small Memorial Day gathering Sunday in the Heavner Cemetery. / Photo by Katie Kuba

Brown mused that many Americans either don’t understand the significance of Memorial Day or have forgotten its importance.

“Most people think it’s just another day off – a three-day weekend, but that’s not what it is,” Brown said. “Far too often, the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedom offered on American soils. [Those freedoms] were paid for by the lives of these people. My personal belief is that if the people who declare these wars, if they were out on the frontlines, there would be no war. They’re sitting back in their offices in D.C. somewhere, while the troops are out there working.”

Above all, the people the country collectively honors annually on Memorial Day shared the two common values of love of country and loyalty, Brown said.

Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner also offered welcoming remarks and highlighted the large role Appalachians have played in U.S. military conflicts.

“When holidays come around, we like to say ‘happy’ – we like to say ‘Happy Thanksgiving,’ we like to say ‘Happy Easter,’ we like to say ‘Happy Fourth of July,’” Skinner observed. “This day, although a lot of us have off work tomorrow, it’s not happy. And the reason for that is, we are here, and we gather on this weekend every year to pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we could stand here today and enjoy the freedoms that we do in this country.”

Skinner said Appalachians – and West Virginians, specifically – should have pride in their history of service.

“Appalachians have a long legacy of defending our nation – more people, more men and women — who have fought to protect the freedoms in America have come from the hills of Appalachia than anywhere else in America, and I think that’s something certainly to be proud of as we here,” he said. “As Appalachians, we gather to pay tribute, and West Virginia being the state of Appalachia, all of us, have a family member– or family members — or know somebody or know several people who have defended this country, both in the past and perhaps in the present.”

The Upshur County Honor Guard performs the ceremonial 21-gun salute during a somber Memorial Day ceremony at Heavner Cemetery Sunday, May 29. / Photo by Katie Kuba

Skinner thanked the Upshur County Honor Guard, members of which then performed a 21-gun salute, and asked that attendees observe a moment of silence.

“I just wanted to say that I appreciate, and I know we all appreciate, our Honor Guard who is here and always gathers with us when we celebrate the red, white and blue, but we look out over this cemetery in this community and cemeteries in West Virginia and across America, the flag is a beautiful sight,” he said. “We have a lot of flags here, so you can see we fought these wars as Appalachians to protect this country. I know that we all beam with pride as we remember those who fought and those who gave the sacrifice so that we could be here today … So, may God bless the City of Buckhannon, the State of West Virginia and the United States of America now and forever.”

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