By Carolyn Marnon – Since the late 1950s, 1200 soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery on the Thursday before Memorial Day. These soldiers then patrol the cemetery 24 hours a day throughout the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. Jeff Connole, Wayne Memorial High School Class of 1981, was once one of those soldiers. He served at Arlington as a Supply Sergeant from 1983-1986.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. “We know that we sacrificed our yesterdays for American’s tomorrows,” said Jeff. He says that ever since the draft ended in 1975, veterans since then have taken that sacrifice willingly. They don’t do it for the pat on the back. It’s their job.
Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor the dead. According to www.usmemorialday.org it was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
Jeff says he didn’t see much combat during his enlistment. He only has a weekend on his military record. However, car alarms and balloons popping are bothersome. Jeff says military members are “trained and conditioned to a particular lifestyle.” He also says “You can never train to be good in combat. You can only be lucky.” A person can be trained well and hard and go into a fight, “but you count on your lucky stars” to survive.
What is one of the hardest things about being in the military? Former Army Sgt. Connole thinks that homesickness is one of the hardest things to get through in the service. You’re not attending barbeques with family and friends. You serve with other people from other states that become your battle partners. You’re away from home, so you share cookies and whatever else you have.
Memorial Day is now celebrated on the last Monday of the month. This year that will be May 30. The Wayne/Westland Memorial Day Parade will be on Sunday, May 29 at 1:00 p.m. It will start at the Wayne Ford Civic League in Westland and end at the Veteran’s Memorial behind the library in Westland.
Jeff seeks ways to educate youth about veterans. He would love to see the younger generation being drawn to the Wayne Historical Museum. By beginning and championing a Wayne Veteran’s Display at the museum, he is hoping that others, especially our youth, will learn more about veterans. He also would love to get other veterans from Wayne involved in the display. Currently, Jeff has some of his military items in the display case from when he was a Supply Sergeant in the 1980s at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is at Arlington underneath which are the remains of an unidentified American soldier from World War I.
If you are a veteran, consider sharing your military keepsakes in the display at the museum. The museum will not keep your items; they will only be displayed for a short time. For more information, contact Ann Zimmerman at the museum.