It was usually a really crisp morning, the kind where mud puddles had a very thin layer of ice on them. You could see your breath on the way out to the horse barn. The horses were always ready to eat and when they heard the door to the tack room open, they would whinny. I’d hurry up and get the grain to them, then the hay. My horse, Holly, came out of the stall as soon as she was done eating. It was Memorial Day, and we had something special to do—get ready for the Rootstown Memorial Day Parade. Our 4-H Club, The Wandering Riders, were a feature in the parade each year. And Holly needed to be cleaned up and ready to go. So did I. Everything needed to be meticulous. We were honoring America’s heroes.
We would meet in the parking lot of the old elementary school. There were about 16 of us in all. It was always good to see Paul McCardle, Gary Urchek, Lorraine Linton, Lori Dunn, Lee Morris, John Lewis and the host of others. We would be seeing each other a lot during the upcoming summer. We wore white shirts, dark jeans, and we all had red vests that went along with our horses’ red and white nose bands and breast collars. We transformed from the county’s best horse 4-H Club to, at least what we thought, was the best 4-H parade unit. Everyone scurried about to get things “right.” Then we would line up two by two, and wait. And wait some more. Then from somewhere up front there was a signal given that we were about to start the parade.
Eventually, we would solemnly file out through the main streets down to Homeland Cemetery. There, we faced the graves of those who served their country, many who died that we might live free. Our horses were to stand at attention, and we were to sit on them, also at attention, our hats removed, as the speakers honored America’s finest. Afterwards, we would load up the horses and head back to the farm, where we had a cookout, usually with Warren and Sue McCarthy, Gene and Betty Flynn, Bob and Doris Harris and their families. Warren and Gene served at Normandy on D-Day. My uncle Bob Harris served in the Philippines. Decorated heroes, all these men knew the price of freedom and they understood their civic duty to their families, their God and their country.
I’m sure you have stories as well about the brave men and women who served in our nation’s armed forces. President Ronald Reagan remembered veterans in his speech May 26, 1986. He said, “If we really care about peace, we must stay strong. If we really care about peace, we must, through our strength, demonstrate our unwillingness to accept an ending of the peace. We must be strong enough to create peace where it does not exist and strong enough to protect it where it does.” To me, there will never be peace on earth until the Lord returns. Jesus said, however, in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Many have sacrificed themselves that we may have peace and freedom. Let us honor their deeds. We, and our horses, and our families did every year. And we still do today.