While others in town fired up their grills, or packed up for a day at the beach or on the water, a number of Newtown residents gathered at the property of the VFW Post 308 on Tinkerfield Road, just off of Wasserman Way, to observe the reason most Americans had the day off, Monday, May 27, Memorial Day.
Kevin Booker and his son, Hunter, staked out a shady spot at the edge of the lawn, in anticipation of the VFW Post 308 annual Memorial Day ceremony.
“We come every year to pay our respects to the troops. It’s the least we can do,” said Mr Booker. His mother’s seven brothers and his father’s five brothers all served in World War II, Mr Booker said, “So we try to keep Hunter plugged in to how fortunate we are, and the sacrifices our troops make for us.”
“I’m here to support the troops,” said Sharon Siwik, whose son-in-law is the VFW Chaplain, Rich Monckton. “My grandson was in Afghanistan for awhile, too. I wouldn’t miss today,” Ms Siwik said.
As the clock nosed toward 11 am, Korean Conflict veteran Donna Randle announced a special partnership to the crowd, between the local VFW and auxiliaries and Oklahoma VFWs and auxiliaries. Donations of gift cards to Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, or Lowe’s will be collected locally to be distributed in communities recently affected by tornadoes in the state of Oklahoma. The gift cards, cash, or checks made out to the Newtown VFW, “Oklahoma” in the memo line, can be dropped off at the VFW, 18 Tinkerfield Road. Cash or checks donated will be used to purchase cards at the four stores, all of which have locations in both Connecticut and Oklahoma.
“This outreach is a way of paying forward the kindnesses shown to Newtown,” Ms Randle said.
Former Post Commander Don Monckton opened the Memorial Day ceremony with words of thanks to all who had elected to attend. Making a decision to speak off the cuff, rather than using his prepared speech, Commander Monckton noted that the Memorial Day ceremony is to honor all veterans who have passed away.
“Several veterans pass away every year without a military service,” he said, and in explaining the reason for the rifle salute that is part of every Memorial Day ceremony, added that the salute is a means of giving honor to them, as well as those who had been honored at special funeral services. “The rifle salute is the ultimate salute, followed by the lonely part, of Taps,” he said.
At his request, all veterans present then stood, and were honored by the crowd with enthusiastic applause. The recognition was followed by the opportunity for those present to come forward and present names of soldiers who had fallen.
“As long as their memory is kept alive, they will never be forgotten,” Commander Monckton said. “Through our ceremonies, we honor their memory, and their service to our country and to us… This is truly, truly a free nation, and it is because of those who have served and who continue to serve,” he said, before turning over the podium to Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra.
A Special Prayer
Mrs Llodra’s remarks were brief, and focused on a special prayer written by her uncle, Carl Saunders. The Prayer For Peace, she said, was penned in response to the Cold War heating up. As aggressive action seemed not to work, why not pray for peace, her uncle wondered, and why not have a day for prayers for peace. Mr Saunders, the editor of the Jackson (Miss.) Citizen Patriot from 1937 to 1961, wrote an editorial for the May 16, 1948 Jackson Citizen Patriot entitled “Suppose All America Prayed For Peace.”
The editorial, which also suggested a day of prayer for peace, picked up steam through the efforts of Michigan congressmen Sen Homer Ferguson and Rep Earl Michener.
President Harry Truman liked that idea, Mrs Llodra said, and designated Memorial Day as a day of prayer in 1948.
The next year, Mr Saunders once again wrote an editorial, “First Things First,” urging Congress again proclaim Memorial Day as a day of prayer for peace. According to a May 2011 article by Ken Wyatt in the Jackson Citizen Patriot, Mr Saunders at that time “tackled objections to his previous calls to prayer, reasoning that ‘differences in creed or systems of worship or dogma need not enter into this discussion if we as a people believe that there is a God who shapes the course of our lives.’”
In 1950, Columbia University awarded the Pulitzer Prize to Mr Saunders, for distinguished editorial writing.
Memorial Day was proclaimed a day of prayer for peace each year following the editorials, and permanently so since President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s signing of the Prayer for Peace proclamation in 1956.
Mrs Llodra shared her uncle’s Prayer For Peace, now read each Memorial Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It is a simple prayer, beseeching spiritual guidance, that peace be restored, and that “Governments may rule in Thy wisdom… We seek Thy benediction and light.”
As Memorial Day is a day of reconciliation, Mrs Llodra asked that all take a moment to reflect, at 3 pm, and give thanks for the millions who have lost their lives, and for those who continue to defend this country.
“Never forget the true meaning of Memorial Day,” implored Commander Monckton. “Almost everyone knows someone who passed away in service to our country.”
He continued with a suggestion that all present do two things after leaving the ceremony that day. “Visit the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, or the gravesite of a fallen soldier, and say a prayer. Second, throughout this weekend, if you see a soldier in uniform, thank that person for his or her service. If you see an older vet, thank him or her. They will appreciate it,” he said.
Members of the VFW Post 308 and Ladies Auxiliary solemnly laid a wreath and red, white, and blue carnations symbolizing the virtues of soldiers, followed by the rifle salute. Then the plaintive notes of Taps filled the air, played by the lone bugler on the hillside.
“Wherever mortal remains may rest,” Commander Monckton reminded those present, “we hold these ceremonies in solemn tribute.”
A second short ceremony followed the Memorial Day event, in which Commander Monckton was recognized for his more than two decades of service to VFW Post 308. Commander Monckton has been the emcee of the Memorial Day ceremony since 1986, and will retire from that position, as of this year.
Sons Tom and Rich Monckton presented their father with a commemorative plaque and words of praise and appreciation.