Memorial Day is Observed in Clay County
Memorial Day was observed across the nation this past weekend, as the country paused to remember those who have served--and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Memorial Day was marked Sunday afternoon at the Piggott Cemetery, as a decades-old tradition continued. During the annual gathering, held adjacent to the memorial at the entrance to the cemetery, the traditional wreath ceremony was held. The Piggott Cemetery Association business meeting was also conducted, with John James elected as the newest board member. James replaces Chris Roberts, who chose not to serve another term.
Thursday morning members of the Piggott Mohawk football teams had canvassed the cemetery, placing American flags on the graves of all veterans. According to cemetery custodian J.W. Toombs, this year there were 793 flags placed.
During Sunday afternoon's ceremony, those handling the chore of placing the ceremonial wreath were American Legion Commander Jim Gearhart, VFW Post Commander Steve Tate and Rose Crafton with the VFW Auxiliary.
Shawn Parker opened the ceremony with a prayer, followed by Fred Ort with the financial report for the cemetery association. During his update, Ort reported on income from the sale of lots and opening graves, along with the particulars of last year's Fourth of July Picnic.
He indicated the association showed a loss of $21,322.27 in the past year, and noted about $8,700 of that were the funds spent on putting a new roof on the kitchen at the picnic grounds. Ort also reported the stands are all being painted prior to this year's event, and noted the grounds are in good shape.
He also provided an update on efforts at the local cemetery, which includes the renovation of the steps leading to the old Lorance section. The project is nearly complete, with the work being done by Bud Holcomb, Donnie Holcomb and their crew. So far, the deteriorated top step has been replaced, while the remainder will be re-assmebled using the original blocks. Ort also pointed out the grave thought to be under the south column was not disturbed. Local historians note the first person buried at the location was a young girl who died along the old Military Trail, along which the cemetery is built.
He also reported a golf cart has been acquired to help transport individuals to the grave site if they're unable to get there without assistance. “We had it fitted with a safety bar on the passenger side, and recently we used it to transport five different people to a graveside for just one funeral,” Ort explained.
With costs rising, and as interest rates on simple savings have declined, the association has seen losses over the years and has been dependent on funds in savings—a trend which draws concern from the board.
“Right now there's enough money in the bank for us to get by for the next 10 to 20 years,” Ort told those gathered for the occasion. “But, we have to be looking further, we need to be looking 50 years down the road and what we need to do.”
He noted a number of other money saving efforts were underway, including the eradication of weeds on the cemetery property. By reducing the fast-growing weeds, Ort contended that several mowing could be eliminated each year—a sizable savings.”
He also encouraged patrons of the cemetery to contact him if they have any ideas for saving money, or better serving the community. “If any of you have any more questions about the finances, or the cemetery, feel free to call me or come by my office,” Ort concluded. “We're always open to suggestions.”
Following the financial report the featured speaker was introduced, as Piggott Mayor Jim Poole, a U.S. Army veteran and noted local historian, spoke to those on hand. Afterward, Parker closed the meeting with a few remarks about the community and a word of prayer.
A band of brothers, sisters, family members, veterans and patriotic citizens gathered on the Sunday before Memorial Day at Woodland Heights Cemetery to hear a sobering reminder behind the holiday.
The guest speaker, Pastor Shane Fore, himself a former Army Ranger, said, “Many people think of Memorial Day as time to get the pool open and fire up the grill to welcome summer and its many activities. We gather today to honor heroes, their courage, dedication, and ultimate sacrifice. We pay tribute to our fallen comrades. Because of their courage, pride, determination, their selflessness and dedication to a cause larger than self, they died answering the call as Americans have always done.”
Jon Bradshaw, Commander of Rector VFW Post #10480, welcomed the crowd, which included many veterans of multiple wars including Vietnam and Afghanistan. Marston Carpenter, Rector VFW Chaplain, opened the ceremony with a prayer for all whose families lost loved ones, for the brave who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Emily Huggins led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
A commemorative narrative about the Vietnam Memorial Wall was delivered by Tommy Huggins, Clay County Veterans Service Officer. For some veterans and families, he said, the Wall can bring a healing moment. Several somber facts about the memorial that Huggins mentioned were the majority of names represent those young men and women who were 22 years and younger, with many 18 and younger. “Many died the first day on the battlefield and an equally staggering number died on the last day they were to be in-country,” Huggins read.
Fore, guest pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Rector, noted that it was after the Civil War that Americans began to celebrate Decoration Day and Congress, in 1887, declared the day a federal holiday. Fore went on to say, “We can name buildings and statues for our fallen soldiers, but nothing can fill the hole left behind, nothing fills the void for the families.” He further read from John 15:13 – “No greater love…than to lay down your life for a friend.”
Cheri Boyd, secretary-treasurer of the Woodland Heights Cemetery Commission, echoed the theme for the Memorial Day program in her words that stressed peace, remembrance and gratitude. She reported that, as is customary, a number of Rector High School students placed 845 American flags at the grave sites of veterans buried at Woodland Heights Cemetery: 10 were Purple Heart veterans, seven were killed in action, four were prisoners of war.
Boyd said 60 burials occurred since 2016’s ceremony, 10 of whom were veterans. She reminded those present of how much she admires Betty Essman for her leadership of the Cemetery Commission and to the countless volunteers who make Rector’s Labor Day Picnic successful to fund the upkeep and maintenance for the Woodland Heights Cemetery.
As the ceremony concluded, the song “Til the Last Shot is Fired” was played. Key phrases of the lyrics included, “Say a Prayer for Peace, for every fallen son…they can’t come home, Until the last shot is fired.”