GREENFIELD — As the first notes of “Taps” floated over the crowd, Diana Southgate began to weep.
She reached out and grabbed the flagpole next to her, one bearing the name of her son. Brian Southgate, who was killed in a car accident in Spain while serving in the Navy, was buried 17 years ago Monday, the day his mother and dozens of others gathered in Park Cemetery for Greenfield’s 57th annual Memorial Day Service.
It was one of two services held Monday in the county; supporters also gathered for a short ceremony in Fortville.
Southgate looked up the location of her son’s memorial flag before the service began, then sat next to it to feel close to the son whose funeral still feels like yesterday.
Brian Southgate joined the military at 17 and served for 10 years; he had planned to make a career of it, his mother said.
She comes to Greenfield’s Memorial Day Service every year to remember not just her son but all those who made sacrifices.
“It’s just a day to honor everyone,” she said.
The first casualties of American soldiers date back more than 200 years to the beginning of the Revolutionary War. To name but a few conflicts, the United States lost 116,708 soldiers in World War I; 408,306 in World War II; 54,246 soldiers in the Korean War and 58,219 soldiers in the Vietnam War, according to the White House Commission on Remembrance.
The Hancock County Avenue of Flags in Park Cemetery honors more than 700 local veterans. Memorial Day should be spent remembering all those who have come before us and fought for our freedoms, Mayor Chuck Fewell told the crowd Monday.
“It is imperative that each of us show our respect,” he said.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. “Memorial Day” was officially proclaimed in 1868 in the aftermath of the Civil War. Congress made the day into a three-day weekend with the passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971.
For Barbara Corley, Greenfield’s service to remember those who have passed is an emotional reminder of loss.
Both her father and brother served in the Army and have since died.
Corley’s father, Joseph Cook Jr., was a lifelong Hancock County resident who took great pride in his military service.
“My dad was all about it – American flag all the way,” she said.
He played “God bless America” at every family reunion, she remembered.
The Fortville VFW, the American Legion and their auxiliaries honored Veterans in Fortville Monday at Gravel Lawn Cemetery.
During the brief ceremony, a reading of John McCrae’s “In Flander’s Fields” was provided by Kaya Billman, who was recently honored as the runner-up for the Buddy Poppy Child of the Year for the state of Indiana VFW Ladies Auxiliary.
The Buddy Poppy flowers are made in Veterans Administration Hospitals across the country and support the VFW National Home for orphans, as well as widows of veterans.
Fortville’s ceremony also included a laying of wreaths.
“As long as two comrades survive, so long will the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States render tribute to our heroic dead,” veteran and VFW member Eric Billman said.
Seeing those gathered in their military uniforms, sharing stories of their service, at Park Cemetery Monday made Paul Daugherty wish he had been in the military.
“It’s always on your mind – veterans and what they’ve done for our country,” he said. “We owe an awful lot to our veterans.”
Daugherty knows from his own family history just how life-altering military service can be.
His uncle was a World War II veteran who became dependent on alcohol after returning home from the war. The disease ultimately led to his death.
Daugherty never had a chance to meet his relative but said the man is believed to have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, before the illness had a name. Alcohol became an escape from the painful memories.
“He was just kind of a vagabond after he got out of the military,” he said. “Just no place to go.”
Daugherty said in recent years, he’s come to better understand the value of his uncle’s and other’s sacrifices as they put others before themselves.
“As you get older, you start thinking about the things that are really more important than tangible things,” he said. “The veterans are some of the most important things in our lives.”
Staff writer Joe Hornaday contributed to this story.