Patriotic Association member: Different observance, same deep meaning; Memorial Day 2020

  • Jerry Turnquist

    Jerry Turnquist Courtesy of Jerry Turnquist

 
By Jerry Turnquist
Special to the Daily Herald
Posted5/22/2020 6:00 AM

Memorial Day has always been an important day in my life. That will not change this year, even though the holiday won't seem the same because of the COVID-19 virus.

When I was growing up, my father, who was an ambulance driver in France during World War II, was very active in local veterans' issues. I often accompanied him to the VFW Post, listening to stories of what veterans had endured.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Each fall, a group of World War I veterans from Elgin met at the post for a reunion. Their remembrances of gas attacks and living in trenches with rats were recollections I didn't fully appreciate at the time.

I would later learn that more than 50 veterans from Elgin, including one woman, didn't survive what was then known as the "Great War." The names on that list now appear on a plaque at the Elgin Veterans Memorial Park near the Gail Borden Public Library.

Accounts of World War II were the occasional subject of conversations at the post where large up-lighted photos of the fighting surrounded the canteen (barroom) walls.

More than 100 men from Elgin did not survive the war -- dying at Pearl Harbor, shot down in planes, perishing in prisoner of war camps, and in many other ways.

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The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) memorial at Bluff City Cemetery in Elgin will be adorned with flowers this year, though no public ceremony will be held. Those wishing to pay their respects may drive a marked route; no exiting of vehicles will be permitted.
  The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) memorial at Bluff City Cemetery in Elgin will be adorned with flowers this year, though no public ceremony will be held. Those wishing to pay their respects may drive a marked route; no exiting of vehicles will be permitted. - James Fuller | Staff Photographer, 2016

Attending the ceremony on Memorial Day at Bluff City Cemetery was always a special time for my father and me. Surrounded by floral tributes, the tall Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) memorial was always the centerpiece of the program.

Engraved at the base of the memorial are the names of the 68 Elgin men who died during the Civil War. In addition to dying in battle, they succumbed from malaria, typhoid, dysentery and pneumonia. The loss of such a huge number would give rise to the birth of Memorial Day -- later expanded to honor all who died in service to their country.

Memorial Day has meant so much to me that I have spent the past 12 years serving on the Elgin Patriotic Memorial Association -- the group that plans the city's Memorial Day ceremonies. There will be no public programs in Elgin this year, but the same memorial that has served as the centerpiece of the city's program since the Civil War will be adorned with flowers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Those wishing to pay their respects at Bluff City Cemetery on Elgin's southeast side may drive a marked route anytime during the day -- though no exiting of vehicles will be permitted.

I will drive that route and remember all that I have learned at the cemetery and from my father about the meaning of the day.

Memorial Day will not look the same this year. That only means we will need to remember and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms in a different way.

• Jerry Turnquist of Elgin serves on the city's Patriotic Memorial Association.

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