Here in St Anthony the free fisherman’s breakfast has been held on the Friday prior to Memorial Day for over 60 years. It is held at the city park next to the Henry’s Fork. For many years we have stood in line and enjoyed the festivities. Located next to the park is the veteran’s park that features a wonderful statue of a WW1 soldier commemorating all of the veterans who have served, and especially those who have died from the St. Anthony area. The breakfast always gives me an excuse to stand before the statue and reflect upon what it stands for.
Memorial Day is also about Salmonflies. These giant stoneflies have always began their emergence before the holiday weekend and extend for another week or so.
It’s also the unofficial start of the summer season. It is always amazing to me how highway 20 becomes almost bumper to bumper with pickups, campers, motor homes, ATV/UTV trailers, boats and more the Friday before Memorial Day. In our shop the demand for fishing licenses frequently locks up the Idaho license computer system. With so much going on I fear the reason we celebrate this special day has become overwhelmed.
For Sheralee and me we were usually tired, worn and frazzled by the time it was over. It was hard to find time to visit the graves of our loved ones but we always made it work. Today we sincerely appreciate our employees, especially Todd Lanning, a former Marine, for working so we can spend the day with our family, visit the cemeteries, relax and reflect. At the cemeteries we always see old friends and acquaintances as we pay our respects, not only for our own families but for others, especially those who have flags adorning their final resting places. Both of our fathers flags on their graves.
Held annually the last Monday of May, Memorial Day dates back to the days of the Civil War. It is unclear exactly how it started. In May 1868, General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a decree that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the recently ended Civil War. On Decoration Day, as Logan dubbed it, Americans should lay flowers and decorate the graves of the war dead “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet church yard in the land.” According to legend, Logan chose May 30 because it was a rare day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle, though some historians believe the date was selected to ensure that flowers across the country would be in full bloom.
For more than 50 years the occasion was used to honor those killed only in the Civil War, not in any other American conflict. It wasn’t until America’s entry into World War One that the tradition was expanded to include those killed in all wars. It became an official holiday in 1971.
I vividly remember as a child visiting my grandparent’s graves at the cemeteries in Ashton and Roberts. Since 1968 I have never been able to get through Memorial Day without tears in my eyes. Earlier that year, at 21 years of age, I stood next to my father’s body lying in a hospital bed in Rexburg. He died at 44 and he was a hero.
Like millions of other young men, (most of them were actually boys) he left Idaho to battle the tyranny of Nazism in Europe. He fought his way across France, Belgium, and Germany in the 3rd Army with General George Patton. As I grew up I often asked him about the war. Like most veterans, his answers to my questions were sketchy at best. He didn’t like to go back there. When I talked about heroes he scoffed at the idea that he was a hero. He always said “The heroes are those who never made it back home.”
Almost all of my high school friends and classmates went to Viet Nam. Many of them were in our local National Guard Unit that was called up. Others were drafted or joined up. I honored my father’s request to stay out of it if possible. It wasn’t easy to see all my friends going while I stayed here. At the start they gave a deferment for college. Later they dropped deferments and instigated a draft lottery according to your birth date. I drew a high number and didn’t go. Two of my friends didn’t come home. They are heroes.
A number of years ago I gave a speech to a Trout Unlimited group in Washington, DC. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. I was awestruck as I looked across thousands of white grave markers. I found several of my heroes from long ago including Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WWII and President John F Kennedy, who was almost killed while commanding a PT boat that was rammed and cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. The highlight of Arlington was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Later I visited the Viet Nam Memorial. I located my friends among the more than 58,000 names on the polished black granite wall. I couldn’t help but kneel and shed tears not only for them but for all who gave their lives while I stayed here, finished college, got married, and had everything they will never have.
Today we enjoy this great holiday that ushers in the beginning of summer in a great way because of those who gave all. Thankfully we can all enjoy camping, outdoor cooking, and especially fishing on this special weekend but it is my hope that we don’t let it get in front of why we have Memorial Day.