Finding Meaning

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Remembering and Honoring

By Skip Hellewell

This coming Monday is Memorial Day, a day dedicated to honoring those who gave their all for our country. In Laguna, we gather at Heisler Park for Memorial Day—it’s our town’s oldest tradition. (Program starts at 11 a.m. Hint: Come early, bring something to sit on, and don’t forget sun protection.) To honor the event, could I share three Memorial Day stories?

The first is from the Civil War, which inspired the Memorial Day tradition. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address dedicated the cemetery of that great battle. After honoring the dead, he called our nation to finish the work they had begun: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work . . . a new birth of freedom . . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The second story is related to the red poppies omnipresent at our Memorial Day observances. They were inspired by the WWI poem written by John McCrae in the emotion following the funeral of a friend lost in combat. His poem, “In Flanders Fields,” begins:

In Flanders fields the poppies grow

Between the crosses, row on row . . .

McCrae, who did not survive the war, finished like Lincoln with a call to arms:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders Fields.”

The final story is about the American Legion, which observes its centennial this year. Laguna Beach’s American Legion Post 222 was chartered in 1928. In that time, Laguna’s two-room schoolhouse became redundant and Post 222 bought the building for $1 and rolled it on poles down Park Avenue to its current location at 384 Legion Street. Richard Moore has been the commander the past six years; on July 1, Stephen Jeppson steps up as the new commander.

Post 222 has been organizing our Memorial Day programs ever since its founding. On Monday, once again, we’ll gather at Heisler Park, listen to speeches, and honor passed warriors. There is a tradition called Post Everlasting, where Laguna nonprofits and citizens present flowers in the names of those passed. Diane Connell, long-time resident, will honor her husband Dave Connell, a veteran of WWII and the Korean War, former Post 222 commander, and tireless Laguna citizen, who passed this last year. Diane, moving to Arizona to be near a son, delayed her trip to be with us for this last Memorial Day.

I’m planning to bring flowers in memory of Laguna’s Allen Titensor. His B-29 Superfortress was lost at sea on its first mission in 1944. No grave marks his passing; no wife or children ever sang his name. But Laguna will pause to remember him and his sacrifice on Memorial Day. There’s meaning in that.



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