For many years, my father-in-law, Bob White, hosted a Memorial Day flag raising ceremony in his front yard. It was a big neighborhood event – especially when my wife, Katie, was young. Kids decorated their bikes for the block-long parade, Dick Weigel played Taps from behind the big pine tree, and Bob gave a combination Bob Hope stand-up routine/ode to the fallen heroes in war speech. He had the wonderful ability to transition seamlessly from schtik to serious. After a few choruses of popular patriotic song — led by Joe Mulheran and Bob’s wife, Junie — neighbors would re-connect after the winter break, which in Minnesota is quite long.
Bob passed away in 1999, Junie moved from their Woodland Road home years ago and the Memorial Day service faded away. In 2004, I decided to pick up the ball and do something similar, albeit at a smaller scale compared to Bob’s extravaganza. The thought was to do a simple remembrance, invite the neighbors and take a 45 minute pause on Memorial Day to remember our fallen veterans.
The first year I tried this I had no idea what I was doing. I Googled “Memorial Day, Flag Raising, How” and found hundreds of sites, none of which applied to our simple neighborhood setting. So I winged it and muddled through Year 1.
Luckily, Dick Weigel, our intrepid Taps player, lives in my neighborhood, participated in all of Bob’s celebrations and played Taps at our first Memorial Day service. He pulled me aside afterwards and gave me a few much needed pointers. We’ve hosted the celebration for the past seven years and, with Dick’s help, we’ve improved it a little bit each year.
So, if you’d like to host a Memorial Day service in your neighborhood, here is what I learned over the past 7 years.
- Pretty obvious: make sure you have a flag to raise in your front or back yard. I picked up a cheap pole and flag at Home Depot, dug a hole, pour a little cement in the base and it was up in no time. Compared to other do-it-yourself projects, this one’s easy.
- Print a simple flyer letting your neighbors know about it. Make sure you invite everyone because the excluded will feel bad if they drive by your house and see a bunch of people in the front yard saluting the flag. Also, don’t be too selective. This is a great chance to get to know your neighbors, many of whom may snarl at you in the winter but are very nice in person. Memorial Day 2011 invitation.
- Prepare a simple program. This is as much for my benefit as it is for our guests. We try to keep the program down to about 15 minutes, which leaves plenty of time for socializing. Here is our 2011 program.
- Get a good set of speakers, maybe a microphone depending on the size of the group, and pump some patriotic music. Nothing like Anchors Away on a sunny morning to get the crowd in the mood as they arrive.
- Make sure the flag is properly folded, sitting on a nearby table before the ceremony begins. When you attach it to the pole, raise it all the way to the top and say the Pledge of Allegiance. As you lower the flage to half mast, have someone play Taps.
- Speaking of music, find one person in neighborhood willing to lead the singing. Mark lives down the street, sings for a local church and does a terrific job. We don’t have a backup band, so Mark gets everyone on the right key and adds a touch of class to the music program.
- Pick up some Starbucks coffee, bagels, juice, etc. This will get those lazy *ss teenagers out of bed.
- Neighbor of the Year award is a part of the program I stole from Bob. We give a long stem rose to the NOTY, which is arbitrarily selected by me. (Better wave to me in the mornings.)
- The veteran spotlight is something I added. The number of veterans killed in action is daunting (e.g. over 500,000 in WWII, over 50,000 in Vietnam) and it’s hard to get our heads around these numbers. So each year I tell the story of one fallen hero, often one that received the Medal of Honor during the year. This year, the spotlight will be on Staff Sergeant Rob Miller. See http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/miller/
That’s it. Pretty easy and feel free to improvise and make it your own. More importantly, do something to make Memorial Day more than just another day off from work. We owe so much to the heroes that have made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy.