By Harry McCawley
Sometime after 11 a.m. Monday, a group of rifle-bearing men will render salutes during a final roll call for some of their peers at the Moravian Cemetery in Hope.
The men bearing arms will be veterans, members of American Legion Post 229 in Hope. Those they will be saluting were fellow veterans and neighbors who had lived in Flat Rock and Hawcreek townships. Each passed away in the past year.
There will be a permanence to the recognition of these individuals beyond the symbolic roll call. Their names will have been etched into a black granite slab in the Veterans Section of the cemetery.
It is all part of a tradition, several traditions in fact, each tied by the desire to not only recognize the sacrifice of those who served in the military but to do so in a manner that will carry their memory into future generations.
The ceremony at the memorial in the Moravian Cemetery dates to Nov. 12, 2000, when the granite slab was first unveiled to signal the successful completion of a community fund drive that raised more than $22,000.
Etched into the granite that day 17 years ago were the names of 559 Hope-area veterans. Today, that number has grown to 779, a statistic that will only grow as members of the generations who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam — conflicts in which the majority of American combatants entered the military through the Selective Service Act — reach and pass the age of mortality.
The memorial was created because an earlier method of community recognition of service had become too unwieldy and difficult to sustain. Prior to gathering at a stone marker each Memorial Day, members of Legion Post 229 observed the passing of their brethren before a sea of white wooden crosses, each bearing the name of a deceased area veteran and staked out in a pattern akin to a military formation.
The stenciled crosses of wood were another part of Hope’s military tradition, one that stretched back to 1953 and was followed faithfully for the next 47 years.
The tradition began with a suggestion from Lucy Holder, president of the post’s auxiliary, who proposed that the passing of each veteran from the Hope, Hartsville and Clifford areas be memorialized by a wooden cross that would bear his name. While the suggestion was important, even more critical to what would become a treasured community tradition was the man who approved it, George (William) Reed, commander of Post 229.
Over the next 47 years George and his wife, Velma, personally oversaw the cross tradition, from the assembly of the wooden parts, through the stenciling of names, to the arrangement and staking of the marker in a neatly aligned formation. Fortunately, they had a lot of helpers, but eventually the process became so large and cumbersome that it was difficult to sustain.
By 1999, the number of crosses had reached 550 and the workload had become too much even for a dedicated group of volunteers. In addition to staking out the crosses on Memorial Day and creating new ones each year, volunteers had to find the means to preserve the existing markers and a place to house them throughout the year.
The granite memorial was the solution, but it didn’t come cheaply. For most small towns like Hope, the $22,000 price tag might have seemed out of reach, but area businesses and residents — including many families of deceased veterans — surpassed the original goal in time for the Nov. 12, 2000, dedication.
While the original methods of recognition have undergone modification, one tradition tied to Memorial Day observances in the Hope area has remained unchanged. While there is no absolute certainty as to when it began, the Hope Legion Post has for at least the past 65 years held brief ceremonies at eight area cemeteries containing the remains of Hope area veterans.
“Member of the post would gather at the post early in the morning of Memorial Day, load their rifles and other gear, and head out to the burial sites,” remembered A.C. Reeves, leader of the post’s honor guard. “Each service consisted of a word from the commander, a prayer by the chaplain, placing of a bouquet of flowers at a designated grave or flagpole, firing of a 21-gun salute and playing of taps.”
A.C., a retiree, got involved with the tradition as a youngster when his father was a member of the honor guard.
“The Indianapolis 500 used to be run on Memorial Day. I remember the guys stopping at each site of a service, performing their ceremony and hopping back into their cars with the AM radio set to an Indy station to listen to the race until the next stop,” he said.
While modifications have had to be made to some of the Memorial Day observances in Hope, the practice of visiting the cemeteries where area veterans are buried has remained intact for at least six decades. I suspect that will continue well into the future based on an observation A.C. made.
“Our group now consists of sons and grandsons of some of those first Legion members.”
The timetable for the Memorial Day visits to Hope-area cemeteries by members of American Legion Post 229 Honor Guard is as follows:
8:30 a.m.: Sharon Cemetery
8:50 a.m.: Newbern Cemetery
9:15 a.m.: Hartsville Square
9:40 a.m.: Hawcreek Church Cemetery
10 a.m.: Simmons Cemetery
10:15 a.m.: Old St. Louis Cemetery
10:30 a.m.: Hawcreek Bridge, Jackson Street
11 a.m.: Veterans Memorial, Moravian Cemetery
Other area events in observance of Memorial Day on Monday include:
9:30 a.m.: Tossing of wreaths into East Fork White River from the Second Street Bridge by the Bartholomew County Honor Guard and members of the auxiliaries of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War organizations.
10 a.m.: Traditional ceremony honoring local veterans in the veterans sections of Garland Brook Cemetery.
11 a.m.: Community observance at the Memorial for Veterans on the Bartholomew County Courthouse lawn. Featured speaker will be John Walter, a bomber pilot during World War II.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.