Column | Andrew Maciejewski: A Memorial Day revisited: ‘Remember the forgotten’ |

Column | Andrew Maciejewski: A Memorial Day revisited: ‘Remember the forgotten’

Andrew Maciejewski
Summit Daily News Editor

“Remember the forgotten,” Gary Miller said before he bowed his head in prayer.

The Navy veteran calmly lifted his arm as he saluted the fallen soldiers buried at Memorial Park Cemetery. Their graves worn and strewn with grass clippings, he would clean each stone before he started his ceremony.

I remember the dappled light that broke through the large sycamore leaves and danced across his face as he placed each American flag into the ground. His actions were deliberate. His tone was solemn — much different than the man I met in the parking lot an hour earlier.

As I sat at the Veterans of Foreign Wars bar three hours earlier, I heard of a man who spent weeks leading up to Memorial Day searching for weathered limestone graves dated in the 1800s and early 1900s. The veterans said his mission was to make sure every soldier who died in combat and was laid to rest in Huntington County, Indiana, was remembered for their sacrifice.

Nobody knew his phone number, but they had heard rumors that he would be headed to Memorial Park that day. Sure enough, after a few hours Miller got out of his pickup truck as he headed toward the graves, his hands grasped around two bundles of American flags.

Miller had spent 17 years in active duty, he told me, and in his free time while stationed in Boston, he got in the habit of exploring old cemeteries and reading about the history of wars and people he’d never paid much attention to in high school.

Now, he uses that knowledge to study graves for symbols and specific dates, searching for soldiers who may not have living relatives to honor their service to our country.

As I spend my first Memorial Day in Summit County, I can’t help but think about Miller and his selflessness. Ever since I met him, I’ve had a new respect for Memorial Day and the way I observe this holiday weekend. There’s something about knowing he’s out in the humid, hot hills of north-central Indiana giving up every ounce of free time leading up to the last Monday in May.

Miller understood the assignment. He understood that without our men and women in uniform who died in active duty, our country would be a different place. We wouldn’t have the freedoms we have if it weren’t for the men and women who took up arms in the face of defeat to defend our country and its morals.

While many of us will celebrate our freedoms today and the countless lives lost to secure that freedom, I hope we will spend a moment in silence to reflect on the sacrifices we often take for granted. It’s easy to get wrapped up in a three-day weekend, but we owe so much to those who make this day possible.

If you’re reading this before 10 a.m. Monday, you still have time to show your respects with Summit County locals at Dillon Cemetery (Editor’s note: the Dillon ceremony has been canceled due to weather). Local Boy Scouts and community members will be meeting at that time at Dillon Cemetery Road to honor those who’ve served.

The Summit Concert Band will be playing before a reading of the interred service members at the cemetery, and the public is encouraged to bring old flags to have them retired properly.

These ceremonies can be very powerful, just like Gary Miller’s salute to each fallen soldier in Huntington County.

His passion and respect for our service members acts as a great example of why we must always remember the forgotten.

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