Eastern Wake: Opinion

May 23, 2014

Column: Memorial Day lessons learned

A crusty old veteran helped me understand the meaning of our military observances. Now I never miss one.

Dorsey Daniel lives in Oxford. He’ll be 91 next month. When I worked at the newspaper there, he was a bellicose, belligerent kind of guy. He could also be a teddy bear.

He was a U.S. Navy veteran. He was a proud member of the Oxford American Legion Post 90.

He would bring me stories to put in the paper about Veterans Day and Memorial Day services. He also brought me stories about Boys State and who from the town of Oxford was going that year.

Without fail, when I would put one of those stories in the paper, he’d be in my office the next day, yelling and screaming and cussing like, well, like a sailor because he didn’t like the way I had worded something.

Later that afternoon, his wife would call me and apologize for her husband and the way he acted. The day after that, he’d come back into my office and apologize in person. It was those visits I used to really look forward to. He would sit in my office and talk about American Legion , Tar Heel Boys State – which he served as chairman at the time, and World War II. You could just tell that his whole life had been shaped by his military experience. He wasn’t a career sailor. He joined the Navy at the beginning of World War II and got out right after the war. But his life had been forever changed.

I learned a lot from Dorsey Daniel. Here are the three things that still stick with me today:

• People don’t play Taps.They render Taps: I’m not sure what the difference is and I’m not sure that I confused any of my readers when I wrote that so-and-so was going to play Taps at the end of a ceremony. I asked the owner of the newspaper there in Oxford - who was also a WW II veteran, if that was correct. He admitted that it was, I’ve never used the word “play” and “Taps” in the same sentence since then, except to promote the proper usage.
• Not enough people attend Veterans Day and Memorial Day celebrations: When Dorsey Daniel organized Memorial Day celebrations, they took place in front of a gazebo in a town park right across the street from our newspaper office. I’d usually get there when there weren’t too many people there – mostly American Legion members and one or two other people. As the time ticked down to the appointed hour, the crowd grew, but it never got large. May 40 or 50 people. One of the things that grated on Dorsey’s last nerve – and later mine - was that none of our local elected officials showed up for the events. The following year, just before Veterans Day, I wrote an editorial pointing out that, indeed, none of the town or county’s elected leaders had attended the previous holiday. That next Sunday, six of the seven county commissioners were in attendance, along with the mayor, some Oxford town commissioners and some school board members. Sadly, the trend continues here. There are usually about 60-70 people at our local Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances. I’ve only seen one sitting commissioner attend the event. We should change that. I hope we can start at this year’s Memorial Day observance.
• It’s sad that veterans have to organize and put on their own tribute. In most every town I’ve worked in that was the case. They don’t do it because they want to pat themselves on the back. They do it, because nobody will. Imagine having a birthday party at your house. The person whose birthday celebration it is, has to decide whether to have a party, then they have to invite people, tell others about it, plan the program for the party and then run the show on the day of the birthday party. That sounds extreme to us. Most of us would have organized the party for the child and let them sit back and enjoy it. But that’s not what happens on Veterans Day or Memorial Day. It’s the veterans themselves who have to drum up support for the veterans. I think it would be awesome if some other group came along and said to the Veterans “We got this. You just sit back and enjoy.”

So here’s my final plea: On Sunday, American Legion Post 48 will host a Memorial Day observance beginning at 5 p.m. at the American Post Home on Wendell Boulevard. Take an hour to join the celebration. It will be worth your time.

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