Municipalities around Champaign County observed Memorial Day weekend with tradition and ceremony.
Mechanicsburg featured a full slate of observances. Following a parade of Scouts, fire apparatus, tractors (old and new), police cars and an equestrian unit Mechanicsburg celebrants moved to Maple Grove Cemetery for a ceremony honoring departed veterans.
Led by the the Donald Cannon Post 238 of the American Legion several hundred friends and neighbors joined in. Following an invocation by chaplain Dave Merritt, the Mechanicsburg High School Band opened with the National Anthem. Mayor Greg Kimball welcomed the crowd followed by an oration of the Gettysburg Address by J. P. Kent – an American Legion scholarship recipient.
The keynote speech was given by Logan County Family County Judge Dan W. Bratka. Judge Bratka retired from the United States Air Force Reserve after 35 years of service. Bratka read the final stanza of Lt John Hunter Wickersham’s poem, The Raindrops on Your Old Tin Hat:
“And fellows, she’s the hero of this great big, ugly war,
And her prayer is on the wind across the flat,
And don’t you reckon maybe it’s her tears, and not the rain,
That’s keeping up the patter on your old tin hat?”
“Despite a severe loss of blood, Lt. Wickersham then continued to advance upon the enemy and fired his revolver with his left hand due to the wounds on his right. Finally, on September 12, 1918, John Hunter Wickersham, exhausted and bloodied, fell on the field of battle. For his gallantry, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor,” Bratka said.
“Unlike past wars,” Bratka continued, “the end of the war on terrorism will be less obvious. There will be no surrender treaty signed aboard a battleship or in a diplomatic conference room. While wars today may be less defined, one fact is crystal clear: Our enemies want us dead.
“Fortunately, we have the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard doing all they can to protect us. But it is up to us to remember their sacrifice,” said Bratka.
“Most of those who die in war are young. Whether teen-aged troops or middle-aged commanders, we do know that they left us too early,” Bratka noted, “But can any of us who are living say that we accomplished more in our fuller life spans than those we honor today?
“Our fallen have given what Lincoln called ‘their last full measure of devotion.’ They did it to serve America. They did it to serve us. As scripture tells us, ‘well done, my good and faithful servant.’ Well done. Let us live up to their sacrifice. May God bless them and may God bless you for remembering them here today,” Bratke concluded.
The ceremony ended with the Scouts placing a rose by a placard for each American war, a 21-gun salute fired by the honor guard and Taps played by Mechanicsburg High School Band Director Brad Oyer.
In addition to Mechanicsburg, Urbana and other surrounding villages also held observances on Memorial Day.
Bryan Bridges is a local writer who contributes to this newspaper.