Mayor Wade Cowan Memorial Day 2018 Speech

Winters Mayor Wade Cowan delivers the keynote address at Memorial Day Services on Monday, May 28, at the Winters Cemetery. Photo by Debra DeAngelo

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Thank you, I am humbled and deeply honored to be here today.

First in the interest of full disclosure and to limit expectations I must tell you that unlike my predecessor former mayor now Assemblywoman Cecilia Curry, I am not a real politician, so public speaking isn’t my strong suit, and I am rarely if ever seen in a dress!

Memorial Day is the time for all of us as Americans to reconnect with our history and core values by honoring those who gave their lives for the ideals we all cherish.

More than a million American service members have died in the wars and conflicts we have fought and continue to fight since the first colonial soldiers took up arms in 1775 to fight for our independence. Each person, man, woman, sometimes even children who died during those conflicts was a loved one, cherished by family and friends. Each was a loss to their community and this nation.

The observance of this day was born of compassion and empathy in 1863, as the civil war raged, a small group of grieving mothers/ wives/ daughters/ sisters, and other loved ones were cleaning confederate soldiers graves in Columbus Mississippi at a cemetery much like the one we are at here today, placing flowers on them. They noticed nearby the union soldiers graves, dusty, overgrown with weeds.

Grieving for their own fallen soldiers they understood that the union soldiers buried nearby were also the cherished loved ones of families and communities far away. They cleared the tangled brush and mud from those graves as well as their own and laid flowers on them as well. Soon the tradition of a “Decoration Day” for the graves of fallen soldiers spread.

Memorial Day was initially call Decoration Day because the graves were decorated with flowers, then in May of 1874, Mrs. Laura D. Richardson of Knoxville Tennessee, who was the chairperson of the committee to obtain the flowers to decorate the graves in the National cemetery in Knoxville, saw flags in a store window, she had the idea, went in and purchased all the flags and had the local lumber mill provide wood for tiny flagpoles. This began the movement to decorate the graves with our nation’s flag.

Unlike a lot of you here today I have never been a member of our countries military. I did however at a very young age, thanks to a family with a very strong belief in God and Country and growing up in the boy scouts, I learned to show proper respect for my elders, utmost respect for those that serve in our countries military, and to show proper respect for our countries flag. By the time I was 12 I knew how to properly carry/present/ raise/ lower/ and fold our countries flag. I am pretty sure most of our college graduates these days don’t have a clue how to properly fold or care for our flag, maybe if more of them did they would have a little more respect for the flag and the members of our military that have fought to protect it!

As I prepared for today I asked a friend of mine who is one of the cemetery board members, Joe Bristow, better known as Joe the Butcher or Joe the weatherman or currently Joe the paperboy if he could help me out with some info on service members that are buried in our cemetery. I was truly amazed when he brought me a fat envelope with page after page of names, currently there is 460 veterans buried here in the Winters cemetery, every one of which is marked this weekend with a flag, I was also amazed to learn there is not only members of all the branches, army/navy/ marines/ air force/ coast guard/ merchant marines but also best I can tell pretty much every war or conflict this country has been involved in from the civil war to the gulf war!

Joe also provided me with some history about our cemetery which was started in 1875 by members of the local Masonic lodge. Back then you could get a 12 grave lot for $12.50, now it costs you more than that for the shovel to dig the hole!

I was also surprised to learn that three members of the Donner party settled here in Winters, Solomon Hook his
wife Alice and their son Edward, all of whom are buried here in the Winters cemetery. But the best thing I learned going thru the info that Joe provided to me was the meaning of “coins left on the headstones of veterans”

  • A coin left on a headstone lets the family know that someone stopped by to pay their respect.
  • Leaving a Penny means you visited
  • A nickel means that you and the deceased soldier trained at boot camp together
  • A dime Means that you served with the deceased
  • A quarter is very significant because it means that you were there when that soldier died.

Joe also noted that, Shelia Carbahal the manager here finds pennies quite often and occasionally a quarter.

I have always been a numbers guy so please allow me to cite a few facts- not a complete list by any means, but facts have a way of not allowing you to ignore them, facts can be brutal;

  • In 80 months of the Revolutionary war there were 10,623 casualties, with 4,435 deaths, about 55 Americans dying each month
  • In 37 months of the Korean war there were 136,935 casualties, with 33,651 deaths or about 909 Americans dying each month
  • In 90 months of the Vietnam war there were 211,471 casualties, with 47,369 deaths or about 526 Americans
    dying each month

This by no means is a complete list but let me mention one more, the big one, ominously numbered with a two, not only because there was a previous war that was considered to be a world war, but because reasonable men rightly assumed there might be more such huge conflicts that would literally embrace the globe, World War II, This was a time when good and evil contended for the world.

  • In 48 months of World War II there were 1,078,162 casualties, with 407,316 deaths or, 6,639 Americans dying in combat each month of the war!

And we all know, and the world well knows, that without the contributions of the United States in World War II, civilization as we know it, would not have survived.

While we are talking about World War II, I feel we must acknowledge the dedication of Japanese-American soldiers that served, even thru one of the most difficult periods of American history. While Italian-Americans and German-Americans were assumed to be loyal Americans during World War II, Japanese-Americans who were fully naturalized citizens, born in this country, were assumed to be disloyal and entire families, were “interned” and sent to internment camps throughout the west. Their possessions were confiscated and they were allowed only to take what they could carry to these camps, where they were forced to stay for up to two years. I wanted to learn about the Japanese-Americans in Winters so I knew just who to ask another former Winters Mayor and local history buff Woody Friday, who shared with me a book on Winters history written by Joann Larkey. Winters had over a hundred Japanese-American citizens and they were a very important part of our farming community. Shortly after they were interned a fire destroyed their houses that were located in “Section 4” just east of where the community center is now.

Among the people of Japanese descent from Winters who, despite the shame shown to their families, served in the Second world War were; Roy Hiramatsu, Pete Kato, and Mike Kato. Frank Takahshi, also from Winters served in the Korean war. All of these fine Winters soldiers are buried here except for Roy Hiramatsu who was buried in Sacramento.

Before I tell this next story, that may sound a little like we are picking on the French, I want to remind everyone that without their help in the Revolutionary war we were on our way to getting out butts kicked! That said, at a cocktail party in Washington in 2003, in the middle of the diplomatic haggling over Iraq, an American congressman said to a high-ranking French diplomat, who was — in his sophisticated and French way — criticizing American policy in Iraq for being self-interested; (was asked) “Do you speak German” The French diplomat, taken aback and not really understanding the question said, “NO,” To which the congressman said, “You are Welcome!”

The French would not have survived if we hadn’t entered the war, nor the British, or civilized Europe for that matter. And in the end, perhaps we wouldn’t have either since aggressive tyrannies would have controlled continents to our west and east. This is what it means to say “that the dead shall not have died in vain”. But, thank God, not all our soldiers died, millions of the 16 million who wore a uniform in World War II survived and although the numbers continue to dwindle as time marches on, some of them are still here with us today.

It is hard to tell, that once they were soldiers in a great cause, because after they won the war, they hung up their weapons as monuments, and returned quickly to civilian life and prospered as free men should.

We in this country owe a great debt of gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives so that we could live free. We can start to pay that debt by showing all of them the respect they deserve, by not forgetting, by remembering what they did and what they stood for.

In closing I ask that you listen closely to these words by Charles M. Province:

It is the Soldier, not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial
And it is the soldier — who salutes the flag,
Who serves the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag —
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

God bless all the men and women who have died for our country and who protect us today.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your Memorial day!

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