30 May 2022

Memorial Day, My Grandfather Oxley and My Argument With the American Legion

My hometown, Marysville, Kansas, where my Grandfather Oxley lived out the last years of his life and where he is buried does Memorial Day in a fashion which has died out in most places.

In the days immediately before the Holiday, the veterans' organisations, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans, along with the Boy and Girl Scouts, decorate the graves of all the veterans buried in their district. Each grave, including that of one soldier, killed in the Indian Wars who lies in a grave on the bluff above the Big Blue River, unmarked except by his veteran's flag holder, is decorated with an evergreen wreath with small American Flags inserted in it, and a larger US Flag placed in the veteran's flag holder on each burial site. There are Grand Army of the Republic markers for the Civil War veterans, and United Spanish War Veterans' markers for the veterans of the Spanish American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and the China Relief Expedition, sent to help quell the Boxer Rebellion. For the veterans of the Wars from World War One onward, there are American Legion markers, one of which is on my Grandfather's grave, since he served in WW I and belonged to the Legion. As I pointed out in my post. My Oxley Grandparents, he had served in three different units in two different armies.

The City Cemetery, where he is buried, is adorned with an 'Avenue of Flags' with flagstaffs bearing the US Flags that covered the coffins of the veterans buried there. Each pole has a small plaque bearing the name of the man whose coffin the flag flying on that staff covered. In the back corner of the cemetery, where there are no graves as yet, is a 'Flanders Field', where there is a white cross with red poppies tied to its intersection for every veteran buried there, with each vet's name painted on his cross.

At 08.00 on Memorial Day a service is held at the bridge over the Big Blue River in which a wreath is cast on the water in honour of those who were lost at sea during the wars. At 09.00 a Requiem Mass is celebrated at St Gregory's Parish Cemetery. Then at 10.00, the main service is held at the City Cemetery with all the normal, old fashioned things: patriotic music, a prayer, the firing of a 21 gun salute and patriotic speeches. It culminates with the 'Decoration of the Mound' The 'Mound' is a cenotaph consisting of an enclosure made of stone, slightly larger than a standard grave plot, and about three feet high. It is filled with earth and is topped by a luxuriant growth of green grass. The 'Decoration' consists of a wreath-laying by members of the service organisations, people representing the no longer extant organisations like the GAR and the USWV, and representatives of civic clubs and organisations. It ends with the Boy and Girls Scouts advancing on the Mound, and each of them placing a small American Flag thereon. At the end of the Decoration of the Mound, two buglers one by the Mound and one back by the Flanders Field play 'Taps'. The one by the Mound plays first, and then the distant one 'echoes' the mournful tune in a most moving way.

Each attendee at the service is given a printed program of the agenda, which contains a necrology of veterans who have died since the last observance, and a complete list of all the veterans buried in the district along with notes on their service. For years, my Grandfather was listed as a peacetime soldier, based on his two peacetime enlistments in the US Army. Each year, I pointed out that he had served in an Allied army during wartime. It seemed to do no good.

When he died, the Canadian Army had offered to send a colour guard to his funeral in light of his service to the Empire during the Great War, but we declined, telling them that the American Legion would supply the colour guard, thereby saving the Canadian taxpayers money. That was what made his 'peacetime soldier' listing so ironic. To belong to the American Legion, which he did, and to have the Legion marker/flag holder above the grave, a man must have served in the military between carefully defined dates. In the case of WW I, the dates are from 6 April 1917, the Declaration of War, until 11 November 1918, the Armistice (World War Two's dates go from the day of Pearl Harbor, the day before the Declaration of War until 31 December 1946). Thus, my Grandfather had been on active service during the period defined.

Finally, after years of politely arguing, I got it through their heads that the very fact that he had been a member of their fine organisation gave the lie to the idea that he had been a peacetime soldier. He is now listed as Oxley, Charles A., Gnr, Royal Field Artillery, 1915-1918 (two peacetime enlistments, US Army).


1 comment:

  1. May your grandfather and all deceased Americans who served rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon them. Per ardua ad astra! John the Mad Major (Ret'd)


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