BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Memorial Day has been a federal holiday for only the last four decades or so, but the spirit of the day dates back much further, with roots in what was called Decoration Day, the date set after the Civil War to decorate the graves of those killed in that conflict. Today, that tradition continues, with volunteers placing thousands of flags on veterans graves at the Forest Lawn Cemetery.
That’s become a family tradition for some local volunteers. “I started out with my sons and my daughters bringing them down, now it’s my grandchildren,” said Vietnam Veteran John Siefert, noting that it is a proud moment for him, coming on a day of somber reflection.
The meaning of Memorial Day is close to the American Legion member’s heart. “I’m a Vietnam Veteran and I had several friends that were killed in Vietnam, did not return,” he recalled, “Some classmates that I went to high school with back in the 1960s that gave their life for this country.”
All of our nation’s war dead are honored this Memorial Day by community members young and old who are coming together to keep the memories alive of those who fought and died for our country.
“It’s just time to respect and honor those that have fallen,” explained Dr. Greg Gibbs, a national Sons of the American Legion Commander who attended the service at Forest Lawn cemetery on Monday.
“It certainly is very, very important that we remember them,” Siefert agreed. His 9-year-old grandson, Nathan Houck, takes that mission to heart. “They served our country and we want to be really kind to them and serve them,” the young man said when asked why he wanted to help decorate the veterans’ graves this Memorial Day, joining with other young volunteers to do his part to salute our nation’s heroes.
Volunteers with the American Legion have placed more than 6,000 flags on veterans’ graves at Forest Lawn alone. The flags will stand for the next week as a reminder of the real meaning of Memorial Day and a reminder that our freedom is not free.