Eureka Springs events commemorate Memorial Day
Eureka Springs residents didn’t have to look far to find a way to commemorate Memorial Day this year. Several events were held in the city to honor those who have died or gone missing while serving in the armed forces, including American Legion Walker-Wilson Post 9’s annual service and the first Memorial Day Cemetery Walkabout.
American Legion Service
The American Legion service featured a dedication to the POW/MIA empty chair and a musical tribute by the Holiday Island Singers. After the choir finished performing, Rev. Jeff Timm of Holiday Island Community Church spoke briefly about the importance of Memorial Day. Timm recalled a story about an aircraft that began to rapidly fall from the sky, saying there were 72 people onboard.
“Finally, one lady had enough of that. She stood up and said, ‘My goodness, somebody do something religious,’ ” Timm said. “It just so happens there was an Air Force chaplain onboard, and he stood up and took an offering.”
Timm added, “Before you worry, I’m not going to take an offering today. I’m going to make an offering to share a little bit about Memorial Day.”
Timm said he comes from a family with a long history in the military; between three generations, Timm said, his family members have served a combined 106 years in the armed forces. Memorial Day is special to him, Timm said, because of his and his family’s experience in the military.
“To honor and remember … that’s really what Memorial Day is about. It’s coming to honor and remember those who have given their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today,” Timm said.
He presented some facts about Memorial Day, saying it began as a way to honor those who died in the Civil War. There were 600,000 casualties in that war, Timm said.
“That is half of all the deaths in American service,” Timm said.
Memorial Day was traditionally celebrated on May 29, Timm said, because there are no battles associated with that date. That changed in 1971, he said, when Congress decided to commemorate the day on the last Monday in May. Timm said President Bill Clinton added another layer to the day in 2000, when Clinton asked Americans to have a moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. every Memorial Day.
“So since the year 2000, Americans have been asked at 3 p.m. to stop and honor and remember those who have given their lives,” Timm said.
During the first Memorial Day commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery, Timm said, 5,000 people showed up to recognize 20,000 graves from soldiers in the Civil War. Timm pointed out that some Southern states have their own Memorial Day celebration each year for fallen Confederate soldiers.
Timm remembered performing a piece called “Freedom Is Not Free” for a choir, saying that theme perfectly explains why Memorial Day is so important.
“It’s not only to honor and remember, but to realize this day reminds us that freedom is not, has never been and will never be free,” Timm said. “It comes at a very great price. Ask wives who have lost husbands and families who have lost children, and you start to get the idea of the magnitude of the idea that freedom is not free.”
When he was in high school, Timm said, an Army representative offered the chance to join the service.
“A number of my friends I ran track with said, ‘That’s a really good idea. Let’s go to Vietnam,’ ” Timm said. “Not one of them came back home. Don’t you ever think freedom is free. It comes at a great price.”
That’s the whole idea behind Memorial Day, Timm said.
“We are honoring and remembering those who have given their lives,” Timm said. “My prayer today is so may we live. So may we remember and honor and respect those who have given their lives that we might have the freedoms we’ve been enjoying.”
He continued, “My prayer is they might hear those wonderful Biblical words … ‘Well done, thy good and faithful servants.’ See, these are the people who gave up their tomorrows so you and I might have our todays.”
The Eureka Springs Cemetery Walkabout kicked off after the American Legion’s ceremony ended, held at the cemetery from noon to 3 p.m. Bob Thomas, secretary treasurer of the Eureka Springs Cemetery Commission, said he the event was a one-mile loop around the cemetery with various stations along the way.
Thomas said visitors could pick up a poppy, learn about the First Amendment and remember those they lost at the Forget-Me-Note station. Thomas said he remembered two loved ones at that station, his cousin who died in Afghanistan a few years ago and a very close friend who died in Vietnam in the 1960s. Thomas recalled his cousin’s zeal for life and said he misses him.
“There were like 10 aunts and uncles all focused on Jeffrey. He was the pride and joy of the family,” Thomas said. “From the time he was a little kid, he wanted to be a soldier.”
Rick Bright, who manned the Forget-Me-Note station, said he felt honored to help others remember their loved ones.
“It’s awesome to be able to be involved in this, because so many people sacrificed their life so we can be here and do this and do everything we like to do,” Bright said. “It’s great to be a part of it.”
Local historian and former cemetery commissioner June Westphal operated her own station where she described the history of the cemetery and those buried there. In the Eureka Springs Cemetery, Westphal said, there are graves from those who served in every war in American history.
“There’s those who were in the Civil War. We have almost 200 who served with the Union army that are buried here, and we have 75 to 100 Confederate veterans. There’s that many,” Westphal said.
The reason there are so many veterans from the Civil War, Westphal said, is because veterans swarmed to Eureka Springs upon hearing its reputation for healing.
“It was only a dozen years or so after the Civil War that Eureka Springs was founded, and there were a lot of veterans suffering trauma,” Westphal said. “Both armies from the Civil War came here in large numbers. They started some of the earliest veterans associations here in Eureka.”
Westphal said she was happy to be a part of the walkabout, saying she enjoys commemorating Memorial Day.
“I think it’s very important to all people, whether they’re local Eureka Springs people or not, to be remembered. It’s important to remember, because that’s really the way it should be,” she said. “That way, they’re not blotted out if they’re killed while serving. That’s a great thing to remember.”