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Opinion
Palm Coast Tuesday, May 21, 2019 3 weeks ago

Are we forgetting patriotism and Memorial Day in Flagler County?

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Troubling trend: Numbers of people attending Memorial Day ceremonies appears to be dwindling.
by: Guest Writer

Jack Howell

City Council member

It started as Decoration Day, which began in the northern states as a day to honor the memory of those members of the armed forces who died in the service of our country. The graves of the fallen were decorated each spring following the end of the Civil War. In 1966, Waterloo, New York, was declared as the official birthplace of Memorial Day by the federal government.

Next Monday, May 27, we will commemorate Memorial Day. For many in the nation, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, the big sales that merchants are offering, picnics and other activities. Few will attend Memorial Day ceremonies recognizing the loss of fallen service members who were protecting the freedoms we take, so often, for granted.   

Is patriotism fading in our country? Has Memorial Day become just a day to party like the Fourth of July? Certainly, law enforcement will be busy looking for drunk drivers and investigating fatal accidents that will plague our highways during this three-day celebration period.

Growing up in a small New Jersey town provided many memories of Memorial Day ceremonies. The time frame was just after both World War II and the Korean War. The holiday was a big deal in my town!  Just about everybody participated. There was a big parade through the town to our local cemetery. The local high school band provided the music; kids decorated their bikes with red, white, and blue crepe paper. The town fire trucks were all decorated with American flags as well as decorated floats from various civic groups. The graves of the fallen were adorned with American flags as well as a banner with the emblem of the branch of service. It was quite a vision to behold. 

It reminded me of the poem by the Canadian doctor Lt. Col. John McCrae, “In Flanders Field,” which describes the graves of the fallen marked by bright colors of the poppy flowers. We had learned about this moving and thought-provoking poem two weeks before Memorial Day activities. And, veteran groups would visit the school to encourage the spirit of patriotism!

In Flagler County, Memorial Day will have three ceremonies. The kick-off will be in the city of Palm Coast followed by the Flagler County government and city of Flagler Beach ceremonies. Of course, citizens will be present to mark the observance. The question will be how many citizens will turn out? 

It seems to me that the numbers of folks attending these ceremonies are dwindling each year as well as the active membership in the various veteran organizations throughout the county. I have to ask myself, Is the dwindling membership in these organizations also a sign of future things to come? I look towards the veteran organizations to keep the spirit of patriotism alive in our communities. If it were not for the hard work these veteran groups perform, veteran benefits would also fade to be a thing of the past. 

Today, Congress has fewer than 250 members with military experience and knowledge of the severity of combat action and subsequent traumatic consequences. Without our veteran advocates, fighting the battles on Capitol Hill, veteran and survivor benefits will become nothing but a memory. 

The young men and women in today’s military need to stay engaged to protect current interests and request new legislation for medical issues that may present itself in the future. 

So, our job when finishing our term of military duty is to continue to serve our brothers and sisters in uniform by staying involved and becoming active in a veteran group that will voice our opinion and concerns to legislatures on Capitol Hill. We owe it to them! 

I think that former Fox News personality Maj. Pete Hegseth said it best when he stated, “Memorial Day isn't just about honoring veterans; it's honoring those who lost their lives. Veterans had the fortune of coming home. For us, that's a reminder of when we come home; we still have a responsibility to serve. It's a continuation of service that honors our country and those who fell defending it."

Jack Howell represents District 2 on the Palm Coast City Council. He served 25 years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, and is a combat-wounded veteran who retired with the rank of colonel. 

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