This morning, Johnny and I attended an event at the American Legion.
This Memorial Day ceremony is called Post Everlasting.
I first attended this ceremony years ago when Michael started Boy Scouts. American Legion Post 80 sponsors Boy Scout Troop 80, aptly named. They give the troop free meeting space, sponsor multiple Eagle Scout projects, and pay the boys to maintain their grounds. To express appreciation for this support, the Scouts set up the flags and chairs for the annual Memorial Day ceremony. And cook a full breakfast at the Legion.
I always enjoy attending this event. This year, I thought Johnny might appreciate tagging along with me. He was up bright and early, anxious to hop in the car for the trip. Plus, I promised he could select the donuts at the grocery store afterwards. As I grabbed my morning coffee, Johnny appeared in the kitchen. He was curious about what people would be wearing. I told him that there would be a variety of people in different military and scout uniforms.
When I called him to the car, he appeared at the top of the stairs in his Cub Scout uniform. He told me, “Mom, if they are wearing their uniforms, then I’m going to wear mine.”
We drove to the Legion early on a beautiful summer morning. Flags were waving all through town. People were out for an early morning coffee run or a stroll with their dog. When we arrived at the Legion, the flags were in place and the Scouts were putting the final touches on the grounds.
When we walked into the Legion, I spied Mr. Wolf walking through the breakfast buffet. I had hoped to see him. Honestly, I wondered if he was still alive. I wrote about him last year, when he attended Michael’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. Here’s the Cliff Notes version: Mr. Wolf fought in World War II and Michael used to mow his lawn.
Mr. Wolf’s health is deteriorating but he still came out in full uniform for Memorial Day. As I sat with him at a table, he wanted a full report about Michael. I told him all about Michael’s freshman year in college. While he is thrilled that Michael is boxing, he wanted to make sure that he is wearing head gear. He also hopes Michael will serve in the armed services one day.
When it was time for Johnny and I to take our seats for the ceremony, I said goodbye. And I reached down to give him a hug. As I left him to his pancakes and eggs and walked away, he called out, “Mrs. Rauch?”
I turned back to face him.
He held his coffee cup in the air, tipped it towards me, and said, “I miss Michael. He’s a really great kid.”
I nodded. And then smiled at him, unable to answer as the tears welled in my eyes. I grabbed Johnny’s hand and walked outside.
Post Everlasting is a ceremony to honor those men and women from American Legion 80 who have passed away since last Memorial Day. This year, 17 members were honored in a simple but moving way.
At the beginning of the ceremony, the master of ceremonies begins by welcoming everyone. He then states, “They’ve gone to report to the Commander of us all.” Then an American Legion hat is placed atop three rifles linked together like a tepee.
The chaplain says a prayer and reminds us that, “Their souls go marching on” and “Because of them our lives are free.”
A wreath is laid by the President of the Ladies’ Auxiliary at the base of the flag pole.
Then the names of the 17 deceased comrades are read from a piece of paper. Johnny kept count and was thrilled that he shared the name “John” with three of the fallen soldiers. It’s a good, solid name.
The paper is then burned in an old Army helmet.
A lone bugler plays Taps as the honor guard shoots three volleys from their rifles. Johnny startled with each gun blast.
The final parting words always choke me up, “Through the jurisdiction of the Post Everlasting, may their souls rest in peace.”
I enjoyed this brief, 10-minute ceremony with my son. Afterwards, people mingled and talked. There was another round of coffee and donuts. A group from the Legion then left to lay wreaths on the graves of all service members from our town.
Afterwards Johnny walked around to see some of the memorials on the grounds. He also wanted to know how many soldiers had their ear drums burst due to gun fire. I tried to answer his questions as best as I could.
Questions about guns. And war. And the very real presence of evil in our world. My answers were incomplete and lacking. And that’s okay.
Because, most importantly, he began to understand that freedom isn’t free. And there are men and women whom we have never met that deserve a moment of quiet and acknowledgment as we celebrate this holiday.
Because it’s about more than hot dogs. And baseball. And swimming.
It’s about what happened to make all of that possible.