By Randy Arrington
SHENANDOAH, May 27 — As cars filed into the parking lot, the mayor began to breathe a little easier. During the final weekend of May each year, he worries that the crowd will be small…but as the time approaches for Shenandoah’s annual Memorial Service, the seats inside quickly become occupied.
“It does me great pleasure to see this VFW Hall fill up…just merely by your presence, you’re telling me you know the true meaning of Memorial Day,” Mayor Clinton Lucas Jr. tells the crowd of nearly 100 that gathered on Saturday at Shenandoah VFW Post 8613.
“We’re here to honor those men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice of their life, so we can enjoy the freedoms we take for granted every day.”
After a prayer and the presentation of colors, Monica Brewer sings the national anthem. Mayor Lucas then speaks about the banners placed outside recognizing the fallen soldiers honored at previous memorial services, and the 23 white crosses near the entrance bearing the names of the fallen from the Town of Shenandoah.
“They didn’t leave Shenandoah thinking they would never come back again,” the mayor says. “They were thinking that there is a job to do and I want to be a part of it.”
Mayor Lucas speaks of the oath of office that soldiers take when they enter the military and relays the contents of an article he recently read titled, “Every Military Headstone Has a Story To Tell”. The article tells stories of soldiers killed in action and the Gold Star families they left behind. About 1.2 million American soldiers have died in military service. Brewer honors each of them with a rendition of “More Than a Name On a Wall.” The song has become an annual mainstay at the Shenandoah Memorial Service, and yet it still evokes an emotional response from those in the audience.
Just two weeks earlier, Mayor Lucas did not have a speaker for the May 27 event. Around that time, First Lieutenant Tom Bauserman of Luray contacted the mayor and asked if he could help in any way during the Memorial Service. So, Mayor Lucas asked if he could be the keynote speaker. The Army National Guard reservist agreed and delivered inspirational words honoring our service men and women.
“For many Americans, the last weekend in May marks the start of summer, but to the men and women who have served it carries a much greater significance,” Bauserman says. “It’s a day all Americans should take a moment to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice…to truly honor them, share their stories.”
The first “Memorial Day” in the U.S. was actually called Decoration Day and held on May 30, 1868, in the Arlington Cemetery. The fallen from the Civil War were honored that day. The event followed the designation of the country’s first national cemetery at Gettysburg.
“If anyone here has a family member who died in service…I personally thank you and them for your sacrifice,” Bauserman says. “The stories of the fallen matter and they need to be told.”
Memorial Day did not become a national holiday until 1971.
“What we owe to them is to do as much good as possible and honor a debt that can never be repaid,” continues Bauserman, an independent candidate for Commissioner of the Revenue. “Let’s carry their sacrifices with us in our hearts…and commit to building a better future for all.”
Veterans are called to the front of the VFW hall as the anthem of their branch of the military is played. Town officials then hang medals on the neck of each veteran in attendance.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, the more than 58,000 American soldiers that lost their lives in that conflict are recognized as part of Military Appreciation Month. A representative from the Daughters of the American Revolution speaks as a wreath is placed up front. The same wreath was moved later in the day to the Veterans Memorial across from the Post Office and remained on display the entire weekend.
The Memorial Service serves as a key event in a long list of activities planned throughout the day — all with the same goal of honoring our fallen soldiers, as well as the 16.2 million veterans in the U.S. A special wreath sits in front, created by the mayor’s granddaughter, containing 368 poppies representing the fallen World War I American soldiers buried at Flanders Field in Belgium.
“We will never forget,” the mayor says, prior to offering an opportunity for those in attendance to come up and salute the wreath in their memory.
The final remains of 124,000 American soldiers rest in 26 permanent cemeteries on foreign soil, including 31,000 from World War I and some 93,000 from World War II. They are also recognized for their efforts abroad by 32 separate monuments and memorials in foreign countries.
The evening before, the local Boy Scouts Troop conducted a flag retirement ceremony. One of the Scouts repeates a reading of “Old Ragged Flag” by Johnny Cash at Saturday’s ceremony, followed by a song by Abby Brewer. Vice Mayor William Kite also adds his musical talents with an original song about Page County.
The annual Memorial Service comes to a close in traditional fashion with a playing of “Taps” and final comments by the mayor.
“It’s not a celebration,” he notes. “We are commemorating their memories.”
For more information about activities and events in the Town of Shenandoah,