Someone tucked a small flag into the left hand of the statue atop the Puyallup Veterans Memorial.
The kneeling soldier in Pioneer Park, gun slung over his left shoulder, helmet by his side, reaches out with his right hand toward the 18 wreaths placed below him Sunday, left behind by people and groups remembering America’s war dead.
The wreaths were placed there during the Memorial Day remembrance at the Pioneer Park Pavilion, hosted by the Puyallup Valley post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
About 500 people attended the event, said the VFW’s Jack Taylor, a retired Air Force colonel who flew in the Vietnam War. He spoke during the event of how Memorial Day being moved from May 30 each year to the last Monday of the month has diminished its significance, turning into an anchor for commercial sales and the unofficial start of summer instead of a day of mourning and remembrance.
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“Memorial Day as a specific national day of grief — as it was devised — has lost some of that significance,” Taylor said afterward.
Among the speakers at the event was U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who talked about his brother Bob, a Marine Corps sergeant who served in Vietnam and succumbed to the effects of Agent Orange at age 34.
Heck pointed out that his brother’s 69th birthday would have been Saturday — Bob has been gone now longer than he was alive.
“I still miss him, and I will remember him,” said Heck, who repeated that theme while talking of three people who died in service to the U.S., including Washington National Guard soldiers Sgt. 1st Class Matthew McClintock and 1st Lt. David Bauders, who both died in the Middle East this year.
Pierce County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald, whose husband, Gary, served in Vietnam, dedicated her speech to a Ronald Reagan quote he said in 1961: “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.”
McDonald talked about how that quote meant that educating succeeding generations was of paramount importance so they knew what those who died in battle had fought for.
Among other local officials in attendance were Puyallup Mayor John Hopkins, members of the Puyallup City Council, all three members of the city’s legislative delegation to Olympia, and Puyallup police. Central Pierce Fire & Rescue parked one of its ladder trucks in front of the building’s back windows, unfurling a 20-by-30-foot American flag for the event.
“Memorial Day is kind of abstract until you remember … the sacrifices people have made in the battlefields of the world,” state Rep. Hans Zeiger said.
The Rogers High School Army JROTC color guard presented the U.S. and Washington flags for the event, and the Pierce College Chamber Choir performed, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and other songs during the event.
Taylor, of the local VFW, said it is important to get young people involved in Memorial Day events to show them its meaning, giving them a memory they would never forget.
He recalled the Memorial Day events of his youth growing up in Philadelphia.
“Memorial Day was like a Sunday,” Taylor said. “Stores closed. Church services were held. There was a parade to locations with plaques with names of those killed in World War I and World War II.”
He recalled the solemn cadence the drum corps would play as the parade went on, ending at a neighborhood cemetery.
“It was a day of real solemness. You almost didn’t want to do anything,” Taylor said. “As I got into the military, it became a day to remember my buddies who didn’t come home.”