Honoring those who served

Published 10:18 pm Saturday, May 23, 2009

Virginia Richburg’s memory takes her back to the time when a sea of red, white and blue waved in an early summer breeze in local cemeteries on Memorial Day.

“The cemeteries would be beautifully decorated with flags and flowers that had been cut from the yards,” Richburg said. “Not too many years ago, people would go out and clean the cemeteries. We’d all go together – families, friends and neighbors — and it would take just about all day. We’d take a picnic lunch and everyone would have a good time. We called it Decoration Day. But it’s not like that much anymore.”

Richburg was at the Elam Primitive Baptist Church cemetery Friday afternoon to place an American flag on the grave on one of her husband, Alton’s, ancestor who fought in the War Between the States.

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Neal A. McLeod, Co. I, 15 Alabama Infantry CSA, is one of several Confederate veterans buried in the old cemetery.

Richburg is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She has a great love of country and has a deep and abiding appreciation for those who and fought and died for the American way of life.

“We should honor all of those who have served,” she said.

Although there is no conclusive evidence of the roots of Memorial Day, Richburg said one belief is that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War.

As evidence, the hymn, “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping,” by Nella L.Sweet and published in 1867, carried the dedication, “To the ladies of the South who are decorating the graves of the Confederate dead.”

“From what we have read, the ladies of the South not only decorated the graves of Confederate soldiers but of Union soldiers as well,” Richburg said, adding that she believes that this would have been the case. “It appears that Decoration Day did start in the South.”

However, there are about a dozen towns and cities that lay claim to being the birthplace of Decoration Day, now Memorial Day.

So, it’s not quite clear where the celebration of Memorial Day actually began. But what is clear is that remembering the service of fallen soldiers is something that has been close to Pike Countian’s hearts for years. “I don’t know when it started,” said Bob McClendon, commander of the American Legion Post 70. “There’s been an American Legion Post here for a long time, and we’ve probably done it ever since that’s been established.” McClendon, a veteran himself who owns the Conecuh River Depot memorial museum, heads the annual county Memorial Day Service held at Bicentennial Park. McClendon said even before he was involved in the service, he can remember local observances of Memorial Day. “I’m 66 years old, and as long as I can remember there’s always been observances locally and nationally on Memorial Day,” McClendon said. “It’s in honor of our fallen heroes. Memorial Day is more for those who did not make it home, to honor them because they’re the true heroes.” The number is not recorded of how many fallen there are in Pike County, McClendon said, but he does know it’s a number that touches many local hearts. And that includes his heart, especially. “I tend to remember and think about those who didn’t make it home a lot of times other than just Memorial Day because I’m surrounded by so much military things and military history,” McClendon said. “I don’t think anybody’s not touched by somebody who’s been killed in action somewhere.”

This year’s program will begin at 11 a.m. at Bicentennial Park at the intersection of Highway 231 and South Brundidge Street, and the program will feature Sgt. Mike Nuttall from Ft. Rucker.

They will also place a wreath on the monument, have a moment of silence and will hear speeches from Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford and Veterans Affairs Officer Randy Ross. All residents are invited to attend the service to honor fallen warriors.