Salute to the heroes

Daily Pilot

It's not about barbecues and golfing and days off from work: Memorial Day is for the fallen soldiers and those who died at the expense of America's freedom.

That was the message delivered Monday by U.S. Marine Sgt. Major Michael Templeton, who lost friends in his three tours of Iraq.

In a speech at Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona del Mar, Templeton turned the holiday on its head, using his time at the lectern to express some of his dislikes and even admitting that at first he didn't even want to speak to the crowd of Newport Beach veterans.

He laid partial blame on the American school system, saying teachers, in his opinion, don't do enough to teach about its history.

He also handed out copies of various cartoons from different newspapers, in which the preoccupation of brats and beer and barbecues took precedent over the actual spirit of the holiday.

"I used to laugh in the face of death until a rifleman next to me stepped out of our vehicle in pretty intense fire and was killed," Templeton told hundreds of people who had gathered at the Garden of Valor section of the cemetery, where veterans are buried. "It was an ambush that took his life."

Templeton then went on to list the names of other fallen soldiers he knew as the crowd, many of them veterans, would erupt into intermittent applause to honor them.

And so, it may be true, that "a man never dies unless he's forgotten," an adage that was uttered by one girl who was dressed up in a red, white and blue uniform. She was part of Celebration U.S.A., part of a choir of children who sang patriotic songs and delivered their own special thanks to the five branches of the military: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

As a northwest wind blew and all the flags were lowered to half mast, the history behind Memorial Day was read. The holiday started out as something called "Decoration Day," declared on May 5, 1868, but would take place May 30 every year.

It eventually turned into Memorial Day, celebrated on May 31.

The reason that the holiday fell at the end of May was largely because flowers are in full bloom by then and people would be able to lay them at the millions of grave sites of those who have died to protect the freedom of America — from the American Revolution to the Civil War to the "Forgotten War" of Korea to Vietnam to the present conflicts unfolding in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Let us never forget them. Let us always remember them," said Steven Spriggs, commander of the American Legion Newport Harbor Post 291, in presenting the 52nd annual service of the 151st Anniversary of Memorial Day.

That sort of advice comes easy, if not naturally to H.M. Davidson, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war who was captured in Scherfede, Germany, on April 1, 1945.

He still visits the graves of his fellow infantrymen at Honorship Hill in Belgium every five years, saving up his money when he can.

And if he can't make it overseas, he pays tribute to Memorial Day events like those held Monday.

It's the least he and others can do, he said.

"You should put your hand over your hearts," he admonishes to those who don't — to those who forget what the day is all about.

And in between the speeches and the sad stories, there were flashes of entertainment and talent, like the songs sung by Angie Whitney.

She performed a rendition of "America the Beautiful" in only the way an R&B singer could.

Later, she sang "God Bless America," the country's theme song that has since become the standard at baseball games in a post-9/11 era.

Eventually, the mournful song of taps would ensue, followed by the national anthem and the optimistic release of white doves, in hopes that the spirits of those who have died actually do live on, if not physically, then in the minds of the countless who came out Monday to honor them.

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