For Tom Tangney of Pendleton, honoring the United States of America’s war dead matters.
Tangney fought in the Korean war, along with his brother, who died there on Heartbreak Ridge. Tangney, a long-serving member of the Pendleton’s Veteran of Foreign Wars Let’er Buck Post No. 922, drove home the need to recognize Memorial Day during the annual ceremony at Olney Cemetery.
“We remember because sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance,” Tangney told the 50 or so gathering at Pendleton’s burial ground. Most of the crowd was older and included several white-haired veterans. “America’s conscience demands that all citizens be aware of and recall on special occasions the deaths of their fellow countrymen during wartime.”
While veterans hold Memorial Day sacred, he said, he questioned if the general public and, more importantly, future generations value the day. The freedoms Americans enjoy came at the cost of lives, he said, few of whom we knew.
“This should be regarded as a civic obligation,” Tangney stated. “For this is a national debt that can only be repaid by individual Americans. By honoring the nation’s veterans, we preserve their memory, their service and sacrifice.”
The origins for Memorial Day go back to the late 1860s, when the day of recognition was May 30. That remained the standard until 1971, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect to establish the observance of certain holidays on Monday.
The change to three-day weekends, Tangney said, “contributed greatly to the general’s public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”
Tangney closed his remarks with these words from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “ …from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
John Cook, VFW service officer, said post members erected 141 United States casket flags in Olney for the “Avenue of Flags” to honor the local fallen. The flags stay up until Tuesday morning. He asked anyone who would like to volunteer taking down the flags to pitch in.
The VFW was not alone in recognizing the significance of the day. Oregon Grain Growers Brand Distillery at Southeast Court Avenue and Sixth Street reported continuing it tradition of the “Missing Man” table, a small, round table with seating for one to symbolize the isolation of the absent service member. The items on the table also carried symbolic meaning, from a the single red rose representing the blood service members shed to the salt on the bread plate for the tears from families waiting for the return of fathers and sons and brothers.
Pendleton’s ceremony wasn’t the only one in the area.
In Hermiston, family members of James “Odie” Otis Wilcox wiped away tears as the U.S. Army Honor Guard presented a flag-folding ceremony in the airman’s honor during a Memorial Day service at the Hermiston Cemetery.
Wilcox, who served in the United States Air Force, died in August 2018 at the age of 83. Born in Heppner and growing up in Hermiston, after his military service Wilcox worked for the city of Hermiston for more than 30 years and was a volunteer firefighter.
Also on hand during the Monday service that drew more than 100 people were a handful of Gold Star mothers. Ron Jardine, VFW Post 4750 commander, led the short ceremony, which was presented by members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 4750 and American Legion Post 37. A roll call featuring the names of 85 local veterans who have died in the past year was read during the service. The group also led services at Desert Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Irrigon.
Jardine, who served in the U. S. Army from 1966-68, was thrilled with those who turned out to pay tribute to those who have served.
“It’s nice to see people come out and honor our fallen comrades,” Jardine said.
Jardine encouraged people to linger at the cemetery, to take some time to honor those who have served the country. Many did just that, including decorating gravesites. Others set up chairs and held informal gatherings for their loved ones.
A number of people commented to Jardine about the majesty of the Avenue of Flags, which were flapping in a slight breeze at the cemetery. Upwards of 800 casket flags — each connected to a veteran — were erected Friday. Volunteers assisted with the local veterans groups in putting up the display,
“We couldn’t do it without the Hermiston High School football team and the Boy Scout troops,” Jardine said. “They come and dig out the holes and help put the flags in place. It’s a big job.”