A Celebration of Soldiers

Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, began after the Civil War. It is a time to reflect and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

Frankly, they should be honored more than once a year. Decoration day was established on May 5, 1868. It was so named as a time to “decorate” soldiers graves with flowers. “The Grand Army of the Republic,” an organization of Union Army veterans established it.

So this Memorial Day, go to a parade, attend a military Memorial ceremony, lay some flowers at the foot of a soldier’s grave, and seek out and thank a veteran or active duty military man or woman for their service (although this should be a regular function of your day).

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There have been many Memorial Day events, but the most memorable in recent history was an event hosted by none other than President Richard Nixon.

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It was 1973 and 600 prisoners of war had just been released by North Vietnam, due to the wind down of the Vietnam War.

The White House decided to honor the POWs with a grand celebration. It took place on the White House grounds. They erected a massive red and yellow striped tent.

Some 1300 guests attended the black-tie event. Of the 600 that attended, only 34 POWs declined the invitation, most due to medical conditions such as surgery and other treatments from their time in captivity.

No expense was spared for the event. Two large Army refrigerator trucks had to be borrowed to keep one of the dishes at precisely 36°. It was Supreme of Seafood Neptune. Don’t ask. I don’t know what it is.

Gilded chandeliers were hung inside the tent and the large round tables were adorned with floral centerpieces.

The other menu items prepared by the White House chefs were roast sirloin of beef, strawberry mousse and wine from California. The guests were treated to an hour of entertainment courtesy of some Hollywood heavyweights.

Stars such as Master of Ceremonies Bob Hope. Joining him was “The Duke” John Wayne, Sammy Davis Jr, and Phyllis Diller.

Imagine that; stars that respected and celebrated the military. My, how things changed. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

The entertainment finale was a rendition of “God Bless America” conducted by composer Irving Berlin.

On display was an American flag crafted by Air Force Col. John Dramesi from scraps of cloth while a POW.

At the end of the gala, guests were treated to dancing in the White House East room and music provided by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine dance bands.

It was quite an event, and to date, it is the largest White House event in history. Love him or hate him, Nixon should be commended (posthumously) for it.

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