A day to honor
There are some Americans who have paid for the privileges of our country's liberty and prosperity with lives and limbs, with sons and daughters. Many of the soldiers who have enabled our country to grow and develop into what it is are our neighbors, friends, and family members. And many have sacrificed their lives.
Memorial Day, which was originally intended for Civil War veterans, is considered the unofficial start to summer by many: a day for picnics, barbeques and other pleasant warm-weather pastimes. But honoring the true meaning of Memorial Day means taking the time to remember, reflect, and thank those who gave their lives in the service of our country.
Last Memorial Day at Tisbury's Oak Grove cemetery, four servicemen were honored in a special ceremony. The monument dedicated that day - a bronze plaque set in blue granite - commemorates Island soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam.
One of those men is William Thomas Hagerty. His sister, Jean Francis, paid tribute that day, standing in solidarity with others in the Island community.
"I'm very proud and thankful to all the men," she says. "I've never met a soldier I didn't love."
Many members of the Hagerty family have taken it upon themselves to continue the lineage of service that began with William. Brothers, nephews, sons, in-laws. Ms. Francis's list of family members in the service is impressive. "The military is like another family," she says.
Another soldier honored that day was Jon Grimmett, who was killed in Vietnam in January of 1968. Only about six months before, Mr. Grimmett married his sweetheart, Renee Ortiz. Ms. Ortiz's Memorial Day plans are simple and heartfelt, as they tend to be each year.
"I honor Jon on that day by living my life to the fullest," she says. On a day that could bring sorrow, she often reaches out to help others. "I've tried to give of myself to other people on that day." She volunteers for Hospice as one way of giving back, helping be a source of comfort to others. "It's about honoring each other as human beings."
Ms. Ortiz believes that however people honor Memorial Day, it should come from within. "It should be something that comes from the heart of each individual. You can't force people to feel certain things out of guilt or shame. There will always be those who are negative about the war. I just feel like people should honor those who have died, just respect it, and respect families, even though their opinions are different. That's what I hope for."
Daniel Bettencourt was only 17 when he enlisted to serve in Vietnam, and needed his parents' signed permission on his enlistment papers. He was also the Island's first soldier to die in Vietnam. This Memorial Day, his sister Noreen Bettencourt will visit the cemetery. "I go quite often anyway," she says quietly. "Of course I always remember my brother on Memorial Day. No matter how many years they are gone, it's always sad." Ms. Bettencourt hopes that everyone will pause on Monday to consider all our lost soldiers, "in remembrance what they gave for us."
Those who visit veterans' graves around the Island on Monday will see the extra attention paid to the graves on Memorial Day. A few individuals offer their time to place flags in honor of the dead. Brian Athearn, who served in the Air Force, is the Veteran's Grave officer for West Tisbury. "It's my responsibility to make sure the veterans graves are taken care of," he says. "They're the people that made the town what it is and fought for its freedom." Mr. Athearn is teaching his two young sons what the tradition means, taking them along to place flags with him. "The kids both stand and salute and thank everybody for their service."
Danielle Zerbonne is on the advertising staff at The Times.