Flags, bugles and spent brass

Memorial Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. As a little kid, it always meant the stores were closed (including our family-owned grocery) and the town was quiet. Early in the morning, there would always be a small parade consisting of little more than the high school band, the American Legion, VFW and the Scouts. The parade was short—just a few blocks from the high school up Main Street and ending at the city park. A speaker delivered a short oration, a high school band member blew Taps and the veterans fired a salute of their Model 1903 rifles. For a little kid who liked all things military, the best part of the morning was scurrying around to recover spent brass casings.

When I grew older, Memorial Day emerged into what it has become for many—simply a “day off”. But then I became a father, and I experienced a resurgence of civic pride. I felt compelled to take my baby girl to Memorial Day parades.

But by that time, Memorial Day parades had changed drastically from what I remembered. What had once been a demonstration of recognition of soldiers’ sacrifice had become a display of “its all for the kids”. The once somber, introspective parades filled with patriotic music, waving flags, hands over hearts and somber salutes had become a wild mass of 20-something parents trying to herd kids as they tossed or caught candy.

Needless to say, when my daughter was a baby girl, the days of scrambling for spent brass were long gone … communities felt it was too dangerous to let children near such displays of aggression.

After the parade, instead of counting candy with my daughter, I would take her to a local cemetery where we would place a few flags on veterans’ graves. I am embarrassed to admit it now, but I used to make her listen to short patriotic poems when we were in the cemetery … the poor girl put up with a lot!

Around 2000, I moved to Iola, Wisconsin, to take over the editor’s role for Military Vehicles Magazine. My Memorial Days in Iola were probably the best ever. Fortunate for the community, Krause Publications founder, Chet Krause, is dedicated to the memory and support of United States’ veterans. It may be a small town of only about 1,200 people, but thanks in large part to Chet, it hosts one of the best Memorial Day parades in Wisconsin.

The Iola Memorial Day parade consists of the high school’s band, various veterans’ organizations and the local scouts. What sets it apart though, is Chet’s willingness to share his vast collection of military vehicles. Friends, relatives and KP employees all volunteer to drive a convoy of olive drab vehicles—many carrying disabled veterans in the short parade.

But what makes it one of the best Memorial Day observances for me is less tangible—actually a bit soulful, in fact.

After the parade winds its way from the school to the Veteran’s Memorial adjacent to the mill pond, a speaker delivers a short oration, a bugler blows taps, the veterans fire a volley of salutes and little kids scramble to collect the spent brass.

    Happy Memorial Day,
    John Adams-Graf

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One thought on “Flags, bugles and spent brass

  1. Nick DeNardo on said:

    I just read your thoughts on Memorial Day. Your account of the
    small town parade sure brought back memories of scrambling for brass
    during the salute. I was one of those kids and the American Legion Post
    in Ardsley, New York would serve hot dogs and chips with sodas to the
    town at the end of the parade. I did not appreciate the signifigance of
    the former town mayor leading the parade in his WWII uniform at the
    time. He is long gone now and I remember his pistol belt complete with
    the holster and the 45 that was tied to his thigh.

    Once again this past Memorial Day, I was a part of the local
    parade in Kennett Square, Pa. Last year the (pre 106) mule was part of
    the parade. This year the Deuce in desert tan graced the parade with
    banners reading "support our troops" and with ma deuce up in the ring.
    The parade is about 2 miles and the crowd was thick. We had 3 WWII
    jeeps, a CCKW, 2 HUMVEES, 2 deuces and a 5ton tractor in addition to the
    obligatory bands and antique cars and trucks. A couple of vets, one 101
    ABN Viet Nam and his Desert Storm marine son, asked to ride in the back.
    They scurried up the boarding ladder and enjoyed the ride. At the end
    they asked if I could come back next year.

    At Aberdeen I had the 106 mule and the TOW brackets and pedestal
    mounted on the A5 mule. Lots of pictures were taken of the 106. As I
    was loading up to leave after 3 days at the show on the hottest day of
    the weekend when a gentleman came by and made my day. He had just
    arrived and saw the 106 mule on the trailer. He gave the mule a full
    look see and thanked me for bringing out for him to see. W chatted a
    while and filled me in on the finer points of operating the 106mm RR.
    That’s what makes this hobby rewarding. Anyone can restore a classic
    car and bring back memories of the first date, but military vehicles and
    hardware bring out the real heroes. Some of these guys talk to me about
    things they would never share with their families once the vehicle comes
    into view.

    Take care,

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