A day of remembrance and of hope

ALPENA – The tradition continued Monday, as residents turned out to pay tribute to those who have given their lives for our country’s freedom.

The annual Memorial Day parade and ceremonies started at Alpena County Courthouse with a flag-raising ceremony and speaker Lt. Col. Susan (Orcutt) Cloft, U.S. Army Nurse Corps, who spoke of Memorial Day being a day of remembrance, and also the beginning of summer.

“Let us start summer with hope,” Cloft said. “Memorial Day is not a day of solemn mourning, but a day of reverent celebration.”

Cloft gave some history on the origins of Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, and urged everyone to remember the ultimate sacrifices so many have made defending our freedom.

White carnations were then laid at each of the eight war memorials in the east corner of the courthouse lawn, remembering those in the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam Conflict, Desert Storm War, and Iraq/Afghanistan War. The ceremony there was closed by a prayer from Chaplain George Stevens.

The parade traveled to River Park where a member of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts laid a wreath in the water to remember those lost at sea. A rifle salute by the VFW Post #2496 Honor Guard along with the playing of Taps concluded the river ceremony, and the parade moved to Little Flanders Field at Evergreen Cemetery.

Maj. David Cloft, U.S. Army was this year’s guest speaker. Cloft, who is originally from Alpena, holds a master’s degree in systems management and operations research from the Florida Institute of Technology. He is also a champion rifle shooter with seven U.S. National Team and individual championships and eight individual U.S. national records. Cloft is a distinguished rifleman and a member of the President’s Hundred.

Cloft spoke of the decorations surrounding Memorial Day and its origin.

“Memorial Day was first called ‘Decoration Day’ in 1866 … but what does it really mean to decorate,” he said. “If you look it up in the dictionary, it means to adorn, to beautify. As a country, we’re pretty good at that – we decorate everything. We decorate our cars, our houses, our yards, we decorate for birthdays and for every holiday, whether it’s big or small. But the word ‘decorate’ has a more noble origin. In latin, decus means pride and dignity, honor, distinction, glory, peace, and beauty.”

Cloft said Memorial Day is uniquely American because this holiday belongs to us. It is unique in three ways: first how it began, how it marks a beginning, and how we honor and decorate our fallen veterans.

“It was born at the end of a war fought within our own borders, a war between the states, a war fought amongst brothers. In our civil war, losses were staggering … but it was a simple act of honoring their service by adorning the graves with flowers in May that gave rise to Memorial Day,” Cloft said. “What’s important is that it was not the anniversary of a battle, it was not to commemorate war. It was a day to celebrate, decorate, and to commemorate the lives of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. This day marks the beginning of a season filled with rebirth, life and warmth … Memorial Day gives us birth to summer.”

Cloft also said how proud he is of Alpena for the decorations for Memorial Day around town.

“I’m proud to say that my hometown is still decorated from top to bottom with red, white and blue,” he said. “The American spirit is decorated with optimism. Even through the gloom and doom of war, with each conflict, we draw on that innate optimism, that the end does justify the means. The ends is our freedom, and this is worthy of the sacrifices of those in uniform.”

Cloft closed his speech by saying we can continue being optimistic, we owe those who sacrificed, we need to decorate for Memorial Day. We need to decorate our lives with our Army stories. These stories will light up a nation with pride, he said.

“A decoration is more than just a ribbon, flower or a medal,” Cloft said. “It’s a way of gracing someone’s memory with service and honor. On this uniquely American holiday, we must never forget that a price was paid for our freedom.”

After Cloft’s message, 10 wreaths were placed in front of rows of crosses from wars in the nation’s history. This year there was also an orange wreath placed in front of an orange cross, remembering those affected and lost from the effects of Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War.

The VFW Post # 2496 Honor Guard, Alpena County, and Police Honor Guard performed a rifle salute, with the ceremony concluding with a prayer from Stevens.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.