By BRIAN BULLOCK
To many people, Memorial Day signals the end of the school year and the beginning of the summer vacation season. To others, it is the most significant holiday on the calendar.
A thoughtful crowd packed the Brookings VFW Hall Monday to remember loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice.
"Today is one of the most bittersweet days for us as veterans," said Richard Sloniker, Commander of Post 966 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who served as master of ceremonies for the event.
"We remember our buddies who have died. But when we do, we remember the good times we had."
Good memories of friendships mixed with the nightmares of war are why Memorial Day services blend so many smiles and laughs with tears.
Steve Dryden, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 757, choked back his emotions as he read the names of area residents lost during the Vietnam War:
Gaylord Nathan Klinefelter, born 1944, died in 1966 in Vietnam.
Jerry D Schroeder, born 1943, died in Vietnam in 1968.
Keith H. Reitz, born 1948, died in 1970 in Vietnam.
W. Wesley Davis, born 1949, died in 1970 in Cambodia.
John Leslie Brannon, born 1952, died still a teenager in 1971 in Vietnam.
Pastor Jim Lamb of Brookings First Baptist Church recalled a Bible passage from First John 3:16.
"This scripture comes to mind as we come to Memorial Day," Lamb said. "We know what real love is from Christ's example in dying for us. And so we also ought to lay down our lives for our Christian brothers."
Lamb explained Memorial Day was designated May 30, 1868, to remember those who had fallen during the Civil War. He said the idea was to lay flowers on the graves of the veterans who had used their "breasts as shields" in defending this country's freedoms.
Coast Guard Capt. Darrell Folsom, guest speaker at the service, while honoring the veterans of World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Granada, Panama, Kosovo, Somalia, Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Afgahanistan, said the Sept. 11 tragedies identified other heroes who deserved recognition.
And he said the terrorist attacks reaffirmed the cause for which the victims gave their lives.
"The tragic event serves as a reminder that we must continue to make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. That so many did and so many are still willing to do so is indeed a tribute to this great nation and what it stands for," Folsom said.
"May God bless the families of all whom we honor. And may God bless the United States of America."
Although the event was moved inside the hall because of inclement weather, it could not prevent the echo of the U.S. Coast Guard jet flight over the area or the sounds of the 21-gun salute offered by the U.S. Marine Corps League.
The tight quarters of the hall also couldn't stop the procession of both veterans and civilians as they laid flowers on a mock grave honoring fallen Americans.
Groups such as the VFW, VFW Auxiliary, American Legion, American Legion Auxiliary, Marine Corps League, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, U.S. Coast Guard, and vets from all foreign wars paraded to the podium to honor the dead.
Civilians such as Mayor Bob Hagbom, Curry County Commissioners Lucie La Bont and Rachelle Schaaf, Azalea Festival Queen Iris Wraith and her court, Azalea Festival Grand Marshal Frenchy Arrell, and Pioneer Citizens Ted and Doris Freeman also paid tribute to fallen veterans.
The Brookings Emblem Club demonstrated a flag folding ceremony and explained the meaning for each fold. All deceased veterans are honored with an American flag folded in the same manner.
"Democracy is not our creation, it is our inheritance," Folsom said.
It is something we must continue to defend, he added.