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Editorial: What the day ‘is all about’

Let the headstones tell their stories, says a Memorial Day headline in the Post’s files. Thousands of veterans are buried in Salisbury’s National Cemetery. If you do nothing else to honor Memorial Day on Monday, think about the rows of headstones that have filled the cemetery on Government Avenue and are starting to fill the annex at the Hefner VA Medical Center ó each representing someone who donned a uniform to serve this country.
Or do what veteran Grady Hall told the people at the 2004 Memorial Day ceremony. “Go out to the cemetery and walk the walk with them, and let the headstones tell you their stories.”
– – –
“Shucks,” Post columnist Homer Lucas wrote in 1991, “I was in the draft age before I learned what Memorial Day was all about.
“I always thought it was the time when those born and raised in the South ó the land of fatback, molasses and pellagra ó pulled out the jug and began taking a few swigs.
“The talk was how them Yankees put a whupping on them Southerners.
“Well, part of that is right.”
Lucas didn’t say which part, but this much is certainly true: The Civil War colored the way Southerners observed Memorial Day for many years. The holiday is meant as a tribute to the dead of all wars. And veterans of virtually all wars fought by the United States since the Civil War lie beneath the green grass of the old National Cemetery.
It started with trenches. A monument tells the sad story:
“In 18 trenches, just south of this spot, rest the bodies of 11,700 soldiers of the United States Army, who perished during the years 1864 and 1865 while held by the Confederate Military authorities as prisoners of war in a stockade near this place.”
Their numbers were too great for individual graves as they died in the Confederate Prison. People did what they had to do.
– – –
The lines between North and South meant little as the nation fought in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.
And now Iraq and Afghanistan.
The war dead are found, too, in family plots, beside their churches or in the local cemeteries. Others are scattered around the globe, some leaving no visible trace, with no marker or carefully trimmed grass. This is the day to remember them all ó and to vow again to seek peace.
District Attorney Bill Kenerly, a Marine Corps veteran wounded a lifetime ago in Vietnam, spoke at the 1991 Memorial Day ceremony.
“If we forget that war brings suffering and death,” Kenerly said, “we diminish the sacrifices of those we honor today. … While we remember their sacrifices, we should also recall and recommit ourselves to the obligations of the peace they have achieved.”
Let the headstones tell their stories.

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