Veterans say Sept. 11 adds significance to Memorial Day
By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian
This Memorial Day weekend, many Americans will scrape off the grill, toss around the Frisbee or enjoy a leisurely nap on a rare day off.
But area veterans say this year, for the first time in a long while, Americans also will use the long weekend as it was intended: to honor those who died fighting for the nation's freedom.
"Sometimes it takes an event like Sept. 11 to make Memorial Day meaningful to some people," said John Dragoni, a 77-year-old Air Force veteran who fought in India, China and Guam during World War II.
Dragoni, a Cape Girardeau resident, said he has watched sadly as patriotism has dipped over the years.
"They forget," Dragoni said. "The younger generation just can't comprehend what happened. It's just a passing reference in the schools these days."
But since the terrorist attacks and the war on terrorism, he said patriotism is at an all-time high.
"It shook them up a little bit," Dragoni said. "It made them feel a little more vulnerable."
Clemon Crain, a 78-year-old veteran who served in World War II as a U.S. Army paratrooper, said he thinks people will be a lot more patriotic this year, too.
"You can already see that on the street," said Crain, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and the Invasion of Normandy. "People are waving flags. They have them on their houses and cars. It's been a wake-up -- a very sad wake-up, but a wake-up. People take for granted our freedoms until somebody reaches out and shakes them."
Residents of Cape Girardeau and Jackson will have a chance to celebrate Memorial Day Monday with separate services held to remember the Americans who died defending their country.
In Cape Girardeau, a Memorial Day service will be held at the Osage Community Centre beginning at 10:30 a.m., said Jerry Jenkins, chairman of the Joint Veterans Council, a group that includes the local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign War, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the newly-formed Marine Corps League.
There have been as many as 350 people turn up in the past, but Jenkins said he doesn't know how many to expect in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
"I expect a few more because of that," he said. "I expect to top 400."
At 10:30 a.m., the Cape Girardeau Municipal Band will play with the ceremony to begin at 11 a.m. State Rep. Rod Jetton of Marble Hill will be the keynote speaker, and Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson and state Sen. Peter Kinder will speak as well.
The program is expected to last about 45 minutes, said Jenkins, who is also district commander of the VFW.
Jenkins said the program promises to be meaningful.
"Memorial Day, to veterans, is a very special day every year," he said. "Of course, right now, with the war going on, we are concerned about our military personnel. It doesn't have to be Memorial Day for that. We're concerned every day about them."
In Jackson, the Altenthal-Joerns American Legion Post 158 will hold its service beginning at 9 a.m. at the entrance to the Jackson City Cemetery. The Jackson Municipal Band will play before the program, which honors 10 Jackson High School graduates who lost their lives during World War II.
A memorial cabinet will be presented to the Jackson High School by the graduating class of 1945.
The public is invited to attend both programs. More than 275 U.S. flags will also be set up at Cape County Park North, Jenkins said. Flags have also been placed at Capaha Park.
Melvin Amelunke, commander of Cape Girardeau American Legion Post 63, said he hopes people will attend services like this to show their appreciation for veterans.
"Sept. 11 came along and woke us up," Amelunke said. "It's a shame it has to be that way, but we're all like that. We just go along with our daily routine and don't think much about it. Now's a chance for people to show they're grateful."
335-6611, extension 137