Ceremonies at cemeteries ‘give real meaning’ to Memorial Day
Whether it was on top of a flagpole or worn proudly on someone's shirt, the American flag seemed to be inescapable on Memorial Day.
This was especially true at the area's Memorial Day ceremonies, which took place Monday at Leavenworth National Cemetery and Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.
Both ceremonies were well attended by flag-sporting, diverse crowds, from bikers wearing American flag bandanas to grandmothers wearing American flag windbreakers to honor fallen heroes.
The festivities began at 9 a.m. at Leavenworth National Cemetery, where hundreds of people braved the uncharacteristically chilly weather to lay wreaths and listen to a speech by Col. Thomas E. Johnson.
Johnson, chief of staff for the 35th Infantry Division at Fort Leavenworth, talked about the history of Memorial Day and asked that those in attendance honor the souls of everyone that paid the ultimate price serving their country.
"This is a time to honor the magnificent Americans who chose to defend our country," he said. "And to reflect on those who live their lives well by following the example of those who died."
After the speech and a wreath-laying ceremony, the 500th Military Police Detachment wowed the crowd with a national salute that featured blasts from a canon.
Mike Windes, an Overland Park resident who said he tried to come to Leavenworth's Memorial Day ceremonies every year, thought the ceremony was the perfect way to remember fallen soldiers.
"We typically come out here because it's such a great way to commemorate our fallen citizens," he said. "This type of ceremony gives a real meaning to the day."
Asked what he planned to do with the rest of his Memorial Day, Windes said he would go to Fort Leavenworth's ceremony at 11:40 a.m.
He wasn't alone, as hundreds of people attended the Fort Leavenworth service, which featured a speech from Brig. Gen. John C. Woods and another national salute.
Woods said it was great to see so many people in attendance because he thought Memorial Day was much more than a holiday.
"Our way of life is possible only because of the sacrifices of others," he said. "It's nothing short of an honor to take part in a ceremony that celebrates that."
Matt McKinley, who is stationed at Fort Leavenworth, agreed with Woods and said he brought his entire family to the ceremony so his children could learn what Memorial Day was all about.
"On the way over we talked about sacrifice," McKinley said. "Not just in soldiers but for everyone."
McKinley said he took his children through the Fort Leavenworth cemetery before the ceremony and taught them that a soldier from most every American War had a grave there. The cemetery's oldest gravesites date to 1827.
He said his oldest son, 7-year-old Michael McKinley, was beginning to grasp the concept of Memorial Day.
"I think it's a very special day," Michael McKinley said. "It's a day about remembering and honoring those who have died."