Baldwinites gathered on the chilly, cloudy morning of Monday, May 31 at 11 a.m. to remember and honor the fallen at a ceremony at Veteran’s Memorial Plaza in Silver Lake Park hosted by the American Legion Baldwin Post #246 after participating in a car parade organized by the Baldwin Hot Rod Association.
Over a dozen residents showed off their cars and motorcycles, decorated with American, POW MIA, and Thin Blue Line flags, as they drove from Weir Street in South Hempstead to Silver Lake Park. Steve Burke from the Hot Rod Association stated that they always participate in the parade, but due to the pandemic, they’ve become the sole parade for the second year.
For Vietnam War veteran Joe Keating, the parade this year was “totally different” due to Covid, but that at the age of 75 he prefers the car parade than walking as has been done in previous years.
Navy veteran Steve Hendrickson stated that he has been doing these parades for years, and he wanted to remind people that Memorial Day is not just a holiday, “Everyone thinks this is just a barbecuing weekend, but they forget why we are doing this—this is what I think has gotten lost.”
The car parade gave way to the ceremony, in which Legion members gave speeches about those they love who aren’t with us anymore. Fire department members also presented a wreath for the fallen soldiers and a gun salute was performed. Finally, the American flag that was at half-staff was raised to full staff against a background of heavy gray clouds that bore no rain.
American Legion commander and veteran Robert Hare stated that veterans from various wars were in attendance, including World War II, Vietnam, Korea, and Desert Storm, to honor those who “gave their lives and served their country to preserve the rights from our Founding Fathers.”
Historians can’t definitely trace the origins of this holiday, as different communities may have initiated these remembrances after the Civil War simultaneously. In fact, some records show that the earliest commemoration may have been organized by a group of freed slaves after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.
The federal government officially recognized Waterloo, New York, which hosted the annual event May 5, 1866 the birthplace of Memorial Day. In 1868, General John A. Logan declared May 30 as Decoration Day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country.”
By 1890 each state that celebrated this event had made it an official holiday, excepting the Southern states that paid homage to the dead on separate days till World War I. From thereafter, Decoration Day commemorated fallen soldiers from World War II, The Vietnam War, The Korean War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well. Finally in 1971, the government officially declared Memorial Day a federal holiday on the third Monday of the month to provide employees with a three-day weekend.
Fifty years after the holiday was made official, Vietnam War veteran Gary R. Fitzgerald, who has never missed a Memorial Day parade since he was a cub scout in the 1950s, excepting last year due to Covid, encapsulates the sentiment in Baldwin best when he said, “God bless, America. [Today] everyone should work to get together and love one another.”