NORMAN — “Two and a half million men and women died so we could stand here today,” Norman VFW member Donald Schulenberg told guests at the IOOF Cemetery on Memorial Day.
A handful of veterans and their families gathered at the cemetery on Monday for a Memorial Day service to honor American soldiers who have fallen.
“Some will host family reunions, some will partake in community events such as parades or host cookouts with friends,” said Col. Michael Kinnison, key speaker at the service.
Kinnison said Memorial Day generally marks the first vacation we get of the year and many people may set off fireworks, but none of those things mourn the dead.
“We must never forget the true purpose of Memorial Day. It's about remembering our fallen and honoring them by sharing their stories of their ultimate sacrifice in exchange for our freedom,” Kinnison said.
A local Boy Scout troop learned the gravity the day can hold for many of those who visit their loved ones on the holiday. Troop 241, chartered by McFarlin Memorial United Methodist in Norman, goes to Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery to hand out flags, helping people find gravesites and offering any assistance they could every year.
“They're youngsters, there's not a lot in their life they're forced to take seriously. But here, they meet people that take this very seriously and it kind of rubs off on them,” said Scoutmaster Alan Atkinson. “It’s a great point of contact for these young men with a generation that they don’t always have contact with.”
Atkinson said for those who are not from a military family, it gives them a way to connect directly when they see veterans and their families coming out.
Typically thousands of American flags are handed out by the troop at Sunset Memorial Park but with many people’s attention still on the tragedy in Moore, the troop said not as many people visited the cemetery.
Kinnison asked everyone attending the Memorial Day service to remember those who were affected by the tornadoes over the weekend.
“Over the last few days, over 300 soldiers and I have witnessed not only the devastation and destruction, but more importantly the overwhelming outpouring of support being shown by the people throughout this great area,” Kinnison said.
“As Americans, we do what we've always done. We look to the future. ... We are optimistic people who don't dwell in the sadness of the past, but we look for ways to be inspired. We look for ways to give hope.”
As for the holiday, there may be a few things that are unknown or often forgotten that Kinnison pointed out.
"It did not begin at the end of a war between nations. It was born at the end of a war that was fought between our own borders. A war fought between states. A war fought amongst brothers," he said.
Both sides suffered huge losses and 600,000 people died.
Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day and officially observed for the first time on May 30, 1868. It was not the anniversary of the battle, but a day to commemorate the war and the lives sacrificed in service, he said.
Flags are raised and lowered to half staff for the holiday to “remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice of our country,” he said. At noon the flag is then raised to full staff and “the living rise up to their steed and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.”
“In America, Memorial Day is much more than a day to mourn our service members. It is important to remember that the flag raised back to full staff represents continuation with honoring and celebrating life and service,” Kinnison said.
Kinnison read off the names of 15 warriors in the 45th IBCT who died protecting their country. Schulenberg also read off the names of veterans who died since last May including 10 from World War II, five from both the Korean and Vietnam Wars and one from the Persian Gulf War.
“We want to remember these folks who gave their life so we could all be here today,” Shulenberg said.