Canonsburg crowd observes Memorial Day

Published May 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm (Updated May 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm)

A number of places claim Decoration Day, which evolved into Memorial Day, began in their town, but Washington County Judge Gary Gilman singled out Columbus, Miss., in his address to those observing the May 27 holiday in Canonsburg.

In Columbus, a year after the Civil War ended, Southern women placed flowers on soldiers’ graves, choosing to decorate the final resting place for those who fought in the Union Army as well as the Confederacy.

The women hoped, the judge noted, that Northern women would do the same to honor the dead on both sides of the horrific war which claimed 625,000 lives.

Memorial Day, which expanded to include all wars following World War I, become a national holiday in 1971.

The day, which is set aside to honor the service of those who fought and died in our nation’s wars, included a morning parade and ceremonies in Canonsburg.

Among those attending was 90-year-old Roger Murray, who grew up in Canonsburg but now lives in Peters Township. Murray served as a combat engineer with the Army’s 87th Infantry Division during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.

“It was hell, but we won, thank goodness,” Murray said, noting he was fortunate to not be an infantryman who waged a battle in waist-high snow.

During a flag raising at the Mothers of Democracy program at Canon-McMillan Middle School, Mayor David Rhome noted 1.6 million troops have been sent to the Middle East since 2001. About 4,000 never returned home.

“It is an obligation as a nation to remember these brave men and women,” he said. And, he predicted, America will see more war dead because “it is inevitable that more will die in the process of protecting us.”

People stood along Pike Street as marching bands from Canon-McMillan and Chartiers-Houston high schools and the Syria Shriners of Pittsburgh passed from Greenside Avenue to Oak Spring Cemetery. The street was lined with American flags and banners honoring those who fought in the nation’s wars.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 191 and American Legion Post 902 provided an honor guard, firing squad, Taps and echo.

Judge Gilman gave the address at the cemetery, saying that although nothing can replace the emptiness from losing loved ones to war, Memorial Day is one way to honor those “who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy what we cherish.”

“This is how we remember and say ‘thank you,’” he said to about 100 people who stood in the grass among the headstones.

Judge Gilman concluded with the John McCrae poem “In Flanders Fields” written during World War I which reads, in part, “We are the Dead. Short days ago / We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, / Loved and were loved, and now we lie / In Flanders fields.”

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