BUCKHANNON – Of all the years Larry Brown has participated in, overseen and organized the Upshur County Combined Honor Guard’s Memorial Day observance, Sunday’s ceremony at the City of Buckhannon’s Heavner Cemetery was the most well-attended.
Brown made that observation as the 1 p.m. ceremony wrapped up right before the sky opened and a rain pelted the area.
But Brown, commander of VFW Post 3663, still wasn’t satisfied with Sunday’s attendance.
Of all the people in Upshur County who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, have known someone who has or have lost a loved one who perished in the line of duty, “More people than this should be out here,” Brown said staunchly.
However, with his characteristic determination, Brown declared, “But we will be here whether anybody shows up or not.”
The Sunday, May 26 Memorial Day observance was organized by the Upshur County Honor Guard, comprised of members of VFW Post 3663 and Frank B. Bartlett American Legion Post 7 – and complete with the laying of flowers to honor those who have lost their lives serving their country, a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”
Memorial Day is a U.S. public holiday that pays special tribute to military members who have died fighting in the U.S. Armed Forces, while Veterans Day is a recognition of the service of all veterans past and present.
At Sunday’s ceremony, Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Buckhannon mayor David McCauley, shared their thoughts with attendees.
“We’re here today to honor our men and women, to remember your achievements, courage, your dedication and to say thank you for your sacrifices,” Hamilton said. “We are thinking of [veterans] joining us today and to those who are here in spirit, you cannot help but feel awed by the enormity of what we encounter. We stand in the midst of patriots, of family and friends of those who have nobly served.
“Thank you for answering the call of duty. You have made us all proud. God bless each and every one of you. God bless our United States of America and God bless our precious state of West Virginia.”
McCauley noted that although he had some scripted remarks, May 27, 2019, would mark the first Memorial Day celebrated without his father, who passed away at age 98 in August 2018 and served in World War II.
“I have some scripted remarks, but I would tell you that this is the first Memorial Day without my own dad, who was his own World War II hero,” he said. “I mentioned this earlier – that Dad had a little box of trinkets and honors from World War II that we weren’t allowed to touch, but we got to touch them when we lost him last August, and in that stuff was two Silver Stars and these accolades.”
“He was actually a staff sergeant, and his specialty was sniping in World War II,” McCauley added. “We had no clue. Dad never talked about those kinds of things.”
McCauley said his late father, David A. McCauley, served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines and as part of the force occupying Japan with Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
To continue to honor all veterans, both alive and fallen, McCauley said city officials want to install a Veterans Loop that would encircle the VFW and American Legion buildings on South Kanawha Street.
“Today, I’d like to continue to put in a plug in for establishing the Veterans’ loop around both the VFW and American Legion complexes on Kanawha Street,” he said. “The City will deliver paved driveways, new sidewalk, period lighting, a new patriotic-themed landscaping area, a newly installed flagpole and amazing, patriotic, public art along the VFW northernmost wall.”
“Add a couple of benches, and there’d be no neater way of honoring our beloved veterans in all of West Virginia. Please help us get there. Let’s work together to realize this terrific honor for all veterans of Buckhannon-Upshur. When we work together, all things are possible,” McCauley concluded. “God bless our veterans. Enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day weekend while we all remember the true reason for our celebration.”
Members of the VFW Post 3663 Auxiliary Margaret Kleckner and Connie Bailey presented a special ceremony for POWs and MIAs – prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, whose family and friends still wonder what may have become of them.
“As you entered today, you may have noticed a small table set for one,” said Bailey. “The items on this table symbolize our thoughts regarding our military members who are still missing.”
“Some of these veterans have been missing in action or prisoners of war from wars when many of us were young,” she continued. “However, all Americans young and old should never forget the brave men and women who are still unaccounted for. They are still missing.”
Bailey said the small circular table symbolized the frailty of one prisoner alone in the midst of her or his oppressors, while the table’s shape was round to show “everlasting concern for POWs and MIAs.”
“The tablecloth is white to show the purity of our veterans’ intentions in responding to our country’s call, and there is a single white lit candle to show our homes and our hearts are always awaiting their return,” she continued.
In addition, a single red rose in a vase was representative of faithful families and loved ones, and a slice of lemon had been placed on a small plate, which was also sprinkled with salt.
The lemon slice is a reminder of POWs’ MIAs’ “bitter fate” and the salt is a reminder “of the families’ tears as they wait.”
A small Bible on the table signifies faith in a Higher Power and denotes that the U.S. is one nation under God, Bailey said.
And the one empty chair pulled up to the table?
“The chair is empty,” Bailey concluded somberly. “They are missing.”