Memorial Day’s true meaning shines in new displays

Efforts by veterans to change the way the holiday is recognized are taking shape.

| 09 Jun 2022 | 09:00

In 2018, when leaders of local veterans’ groups looked at planning the annual Memorial Day observance, they agreed they wanted it to be more than just a day that focused on a colorful parade, picnics, and the beginning of the summer vacation season. They were looking for people to first take time for more of an observance of the original reason that established the popular national holiday. They want the children and future generations to be aware of “those who gave some and those who gave all” to protect the nation, its people and freedoms.

Membership to West Milford American Legion Post 289 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7198 is much smaller today than it was originally when the posts were formed many years ago, but they have a tremendous amount of help from other organizations and individuals to assist them in reaching their goals, according to Bob Allwood, who organized this year’s observance.

The two veterans organizations are dedicated to creating memorials at Veterans Park to help people remember those who died. Three sites are ready for visitation and meditation at any time.

Bill Johnson and Pat Loughman, leaders of West Milford American Legion Post 289 and West Milford Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7198, respectively, approached the Township of West Milford Council at a public meeting in 2018 and told the officials they wanted to help the public understand the true, and very different, purposes of Memorial Day in May and Veterans Day in November.

Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) in May, is an annual federal holiday for mourning United States military personnel who have died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. It is now observed on the last Monday in May and was formerly May 30 from 1869 to 1970. It was established as a time for visiting cemeteries or memorials.

Veterans Day, observed on Nov. 11, is in honor of all military veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. Many are still living and participate in ceremonies held across the nation. Originally known as Armistice Day, it marked the end of World War I on the 11th month, and the 11th day. It was changed to Veterans Day in 1954.

When they spoke before the township council, the two veteran representatives said they saw too much emphasis on shopping sales, vacation plans, parades and merriment on both days and they wanted to see more focus on the original purpose of the holidays.

Visitors who went to the park on Memorial Day this year saw those changes being met. Three mini-memorial sites now provide a place for reverent reflection. As commemorative trees planted long ago to honor local veterans killed in wars age, deteriorate, and need to be removed, the veterans spoke of replacing them with headstones. They also asked the township council at the time to see that all requests regarding proposed Veterans Park projects go directly to the Veterans Council.

Allwood reported that this year the solemn ceremony, parade and festivities that followed were very well attended. Patricia Wenzel, a local minister, provided prayer and reflections as the community looked at the reasons for Memorial Day.

The veterans hope that the public will not wait until another holiday to visit the park on the special designated days but will go there throughout the year to remember “those who gave some – and those who gave all.”