Commentary by Ward Degler
The plan was, get to their house in time for a backyard picnic lunch and then go to the cemetery and place our small American flags on the graves of some veterans killed in action.
It was Decoration Day 1942, and the graves we would honor were from World War I. My parents’ friends had arranged the day.
Everything changed when we got to our friends’ house. Mrs. Crawford from next door was on the couch sobbing while our friend’s wife comforted her. She had just received a Gold Star medallion to hang in her window along with the news that her husband, a sailor on a ship in the Pacific, had been killed.
Nobody knew what to do. The picnic sat untouched on the backyard table. Our flags sat in a pile on an end table. Mrs. Crawford wept.
To this day, I do not know what motivated me. But I picked up a flag from the table, walked over to the sofa and handed it to Mrs. Crawford. Soon after, we packed up and returned home.
Ever since then, Decoration Day has had a deep and special meaning for me. It didn’t matter when they changed the name to Memorial Day. The day dawned with a special level of reverence. To this day, I lower our flag to half-staff in the morning and raise it again at noon.
When I was in charge of a photo crew at Arlington National Cemetery in the 1960s, I made sure my men were respectful during every ceremony.
This year Memorial Day was a beautiful spring day, filled with promise for the season. Although I was not feeling well and couldn’t set the flag, I did take a quiet moment to offer a silent prayer and tribute to Mrs. Crawford.