Lest We Forget ...


Those who served in the military during several wars rest beneath government-issue markets in the Veterans Cemetery just north of Summit Bridge. Included is Sergeant James Conner, who was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest decoration for valor in combat, in southern France during World War II. A person in the office of the director told Delaforum that  the state Department of Veterans Affairs does not keep track of the local mortality rate among veterans of that war or other national conflicts.

Two months after enlisting in the Pennsylvania National Guard, Al McMullin was in the first of many parades in which he marched during a 30-year military career and beyond. In one respect, none of the subsequent ones measured up that first Memorial Day parade.

"There were Civil War veterans in cars in that parade and I was proud that I was in the same parade with them," he said.

Now 83, McMullin is in something of a position comparable to the old soldiers he admired as a youth back in 1938. A veteran of the North African and Italian campaigns in which he served during World War II as an antiaircraft artilleryman. After the war, he stayed in the Army until he retired as a master sergeant.

On May 30, McMullin will again parade.

He currently is chairman of the Wilmington Memorial Day Parade Committee, a group with which he has been involved for 40 years. During that time, he has seen interest in what once was considered

the most sacred of secular holidays steadily erode. When this year's parade steps off from Delaware and Greenhill Aves. at 6:30 p.m., there likely will be relatively few people lining the one-mile route to the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at Broom Street, where there will be a memorial ceremony..

It is difficulty to understand why, McMullin said.

"Memorial Day used to be important. We were taught that in the '20s and '30s. Veterans of the [First] World War would come to our school and talk to us. On Memorial Day -- we used to call it Decoration Day -- you visited the cemetery and put flowers on the [veterans'] graves," he said.

Nowadays, Memorial Day is all but universally regarded as a holiday marking the beginning of summer. "It's the day you put the boat back

Al McMullin

into the water," he said.

To a large extent, that understanding of what it's all about came as a result of Congress enacting the law making most federal holidays -- the United States does not observe national holidays -- part of three-day weekends.

Many cities and towns move their Memorial Day observances ahead so as not to interfere with that. Although no longer and official city activity, Wilmington remains one of the few jurisdictions which keeps the original date -- May 30. This year's parade is the 134th in an unbroken series since General John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a general order creating the observance in 1868.

"We did it that first year and we've been doing it every year since," McMullin noted.

How long the tradition will continue is anyone's guess.

"We're dying off fast -- something like 1,200 a day, I've read," he said, referring those whom author and commentator Tom Brokaw a few years ago dubbed 'the greatest generation', veterans of World War II. Age and mortality also are catching up with those we served during the Korean War.

"In 1945, we took over from from the World War I guys, but it doesn't seem like there's anybody who wants to take over from us," he said. The best barometer of such interest, he explained, is found in participation, or lack of participation, in the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other service organizations. McMullin is a former V.F.W. state commander.

The rash of patriotism that emerged after the destruction of the World Trade Center and the recent war in Iraq doesn't seem to translate into an appreciation of the debt the present generation owes to those who served, he said.. "They fly their flags, but I don't think they really know what it's all about."

To be sure, there are flags flying on car aerial and depicted on decals stuck on windows of suburban vans whose occupants take advantage of the holiday to travel, as has been said, 'lickety-split' down newly opened Delaware Route 1 to seashore resorts.

Posted on May 24, 2003

2003. All rights reserved.

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Get more information about this topic

Visit U.S. Memorial Day Web site
Visit White House Commission on Remembrance Web site
Go to the Registry of War Dead
Read General John Logan's order establishing Memorial Day

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