Memorial Day at Rose Park
I was reflecting on Memorial Day Friday morning when I decided to head over to the Rose Park Veterans Memorial in Kalamazoo.
It was dedicated on Veterans Day 2001 — two months to the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
On one of the five 7-foot granite monuments, a list of wars involving U.S. military personnel is etched, starting with the Revolutionary War and ending with the Persian Gulf War. And then, as a postscript, it adds, "and those yet to be fought."
Poignant words, particularly considering what we all know came next.
At the base of that monument is a quote from George Washington: "To be prepared for war is the most effective means of preserving peace."
As local military memorials go, the one at Rose Park is a powerful one.
The five monuments are positioned to form the shape of a star. They are encircled by a base of bricks, many of them engraved with the names of past service members.
The dark, towering monuments are powerful, inspiring and imposing.
The bricks, meanwhile, provide for a quieter form of reflection. Some of the names I recognized, most of them I did not. But it doesn't matter — each one represents honor and our community in its own way.
Here is a small sampling of some of the inscriptions I saw on the bricks:
• Gregory J Hudson, SP4 US Army, Vietnam 1971-73
• John R. Skinner, Korean War
• Joe Gabriel, Utah Beach, US Army 1940-45
• Orrie Thompson, World War I
• George W Carter, Civil War
In addition to the Washington quote, remarks from other leaders are inscribed on the other monuments, which specifically pay homage to the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.
One, from General Douglas MacArthur, harkens to the "and those yet to be fought" line:
"The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, the wisest of all philosophers: Only the dead have seen the end of war."
Another quote, from Navy Rear Admiral John W. Townes III, seemed particularly fitting for Memorial Day:
"Words are not enough to truly express the gratitude we owe the men and women who have fought for our freedom. Without their honor, courage and commitment, the very core values by which we live, many of the liberties we take for granted, would not be possible."
At first blush, the site for such a solemn memorial seems a little out of place, as it is located at the highly trafficked intersection of East Michigan Avenue and King Highway at the eastern gateway to downtown Kalamazoo.
But sitting amid the monuments, the solace of the Kalamazoo River, which borders the park on the east, has a calming effect that wins out over the nearby traffic.
The memorial itself, which was a community service project of the Kalamazoo Sunrise Rotary Club, is a fitting place to pay respect to the military service men and women who, to this day, put their lives on the line for our freedom.
And as that area of town continues to develop, more people will be exposed to what the memorial has to offer. The Kalamazoo River Valley Trail goes right by the park and the People's Food Co-op and MacKenzie's Bakery are just a short walk away. The newly opened Arcadia Brewing Co. is visible directly across the river.
As we remember our fallen military personnel this weekend, public memorials are a fitting place to reflect. And if you're inclined to stop by the Rose Park Veterans Memorial, I recommend doing so.
It's worth the visit.
Mickey Ciokajlo is the editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette and mlive.com/kalamazoo. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter. Read his past columns here.
The Rose Park Veterans Memorial got a new look on Thursday. Members from the city Parks and Recreation Department, the Sunrise Rotary Club and volunteers from Eaton Corp. helped refurbish the memorial on East Michigan Avenue along the Kalamazoo River.
Mark Polega, parks manager for the city of Kalamazoo, said a new irrigation system, landscaping and five new benches will be installed in time for Memorial Day. New lights were installed at the memorial last year after the old ones were destroyed by vandals.
Steve Peck, a technician at Eaton Corp., organized the latest effort to spruce up the memorial, but was unable to attend on Thursday. Co-worker Dale Dowding said several Eaton employees spent the day digging holes, planting flowers and trees and spreading mulch.Dowding said the project was especially important to Peck because he served in the military. "All these people fought for us," Dowding said as he motioned to bricks with veterans' names on them. "The least we can do is clean the park up and show that we care."
Sunrise Rotary Club president-elect Robert Lawrence said his organization wants to eventually build a retaining wall between the memorial and the Kalamazoo River. "It's a great place to honor veterans," he said. "We're cleaning it up and planting a lot of perennials so it will look good in the future."
Donna Maxson and her father-in-law, Kay Maxson, hold up a 1947 handmade United States flag during the flag-education portion of Sunday afternoon's flag-retirement ceremony.
The more than 100 flags retired Sunday during a ceremony at the Rose Park Veterans Memorial
came in different sizes, some made of cloth and others of plastic. But for the 30 or so people who gathered for the event, each flag served as a reminder of those who have fought and died to protect America.
“At each and every ceremony, I get a patriotic lump in my throat,” said Battle Creek firefighter Jeff Maxson, who has overseen about 150 American-flag-retirement ceremonies with his father, Kay. “I have a feeling you folks will leave today with one in your throats as well.”
Maxson read patriotic stories to the crowd Sunday as the flags were burned one at a time in a burning barrel. In all, 30 to 50 cloth flags were retired along with 100 plastic cemetery flags. Maxson said he likes to be a part of the ceremonies because they are a way to say thank you to veterans. He said it is important to note the distinction between a flag retirement and flag burning.
The Sunrise Rotarians held a United States flag-retirement ceremony Sunday afternoon at the Rose Park Veterans Memorial in Kalamazoo.
Members of the crowd helped Maxson on Sunday with the patriotic readings and held up flags for the crowd to view.
“We ask for help during these ceremonies because it took more than one of us to do our job, and it takes more than one of us to honor it, and we do,” said Kay Maxson, who served in the U.S. Navy on an aircraft carrier during the Korean War.
After the ceremony, Kay Maxson said he would bury the ashes of the flags in a wooded area near his home.
Sunrise Rotary member Bob Cook was instrumental in bringing the ceremony to Rose Park Veterans Memorial for the first time this year. He said it is a good use of the park, which only is used for ceremonies twice a year.
“Hold this flag high ... for in it lies the best hope for all of us,” Cook said during the ceremony. “I think a lot of people are flying the flag but may not know the importance of the flag. I think a lot of times the flag isn’t given the respect it deserves.”
U.S. Marine veteran Richard Frates, 77, said he has attended many flag retirement ceremonies and they make him think about family members who fought for America and soldiers who are fighting today. He brought his girlfriend, Marla Jennings, 77, to her first flag-retirement ceremony on Sunday. “It was quite moving,” said Jennings, who said she also has family members who have served in the military. “I’m very patriotic. I get goosebumps when I hear the National Anthem, and I got them here today.”