Flags, bugles and spent brass

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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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