Cemetery holds 28th straight Memorial Day ceremony
Chris Beattie/Staff Photo -- Uniformed men represented soldiers from wars of the past two centuries Monday at the 28th annual Pecan Grove Memorial Day ceremony in McKinney.
Hundreds rest in its hallowed grounds. Its presence reflects more than two centuries of patriotism.
And for 28 of those years, people have chosen to remember at Pecan Grove Cemetery.
More of those people graced McKinney's notorious resting place Monday for another celebration, to recognize why there is nothing free about freedom.
"Every generation in McKinney and Collin County has given brave service members for the defense of our nation," Collin County Judge Keith Self told the Memorial Day crowd. "But this is not a day for mourning. This is a day for remembering, to celebrate our freedom at the cost of their sacrifice."
Some may argue a cemetery's connection to celebration, but few could deny Pecan Grove as a site befitting this one. With its history rooted in the mid-1800s, its headstones reflect the presence of 219 veterans from Texas' and America's cornerstone conflicts, past battles that shaped the present.
Soldiers from the Texas Revolution, the Mexican War, the Civil War, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and today's War on Terror rest peacefully underground. They live on in the minds and hearts of those who each Memorial Day stand above them, indebted to their service.
After cemetery president Harry McKillop welcomed this year's celebrants, American pride sauntered among them. Song, prayer and pledge fell on honorable silence.
"This celebration has endured for 28 years due to the efforts of Harry McKillop and the many volunteers who give their time to prepare this event of our community," said McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller. "My hope is that their legacy, and the legacy of those who have served and died for us, will be preserved in the future, to stoke the fire of that American spirit...so they may never be forgotten."
Loughmiller quoted long-ago patriot W.J. Cameron, who called that spirit and the "generations of American youth" the nation's inherent source for "an army of defense in advance that never dies and never surrenders."
Speaking affront a backdrop of uniformed soldiers, both military and civic, U.S. Congressman Ralph Hall recognized the ever-changing makeup of that source, and admitted, "I'm more worried about the children of our country today in this generation than I've ever been before."
Hall, who on Nov. 10 could be the oldest member in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives to speak on the House floor, spent the weekend remembering his military roots. The former U.S. Navy aircraft-carrier pilot on Friday met with a local "band of brothers," dozens of servicemen who now reside in Rockwall, and the following day, long distanced from his WWII flying days, skydived from an airplane.
The House will vote this week on military construction and veterans affairs appropriation reauthorization, which would ensure care for returning service members by maintaining the government's current spending levels.
"I know our men and women in uniform are thankful for this support," Hall said. "I'm reminded that our cost for fighting remains the same, that we're always defending the American way of life."
Fellow Congressman Sam Johnson, a prominent proponent of the bill, also addressed the Memorial Day crowd. A prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven and a half years, Johnson is fortunate enough to testify to soldiers' enduring sacrifice, which too often ends in tragedy rather than redemption.
He paid tribute to Maj. Robert Fleming, a WWII pilot who spent 13 months as a POW in Germany. Fleming died in 2002, more than 40 years after his service, so his family was at Pecan Grove to receive his POW Medal from Johnson.
Fleming's three sons are all in the military, two in the Air Force and one in the Navy. They embody the never-dying army of defense to which Cameron alluded.
"We've got to always remember our nation's heritage and the tremendous role veterans played to build this great nation," Johnson said. "And it is a great one."
Many teary-eyed, all silent, the crowd remained in their thoughts while McKinney Fire Department and Plano Fire Department bagpipers tuned "Amazing Grace," just before MFD Battalion Chief Darrell Groves announced a roll call of Collin County soldiers who died during duty.
Shots rang out in a Sons of the Union rifle salute, piercing then fading into the summer air. What won't fade are memories of the honored soldiers.
Their presence was again felt on the grounds of Pecan Grove.
"The stories of our nation's heroes must be preserved for antiquity to ensure that we remain the land of the free and the home of the brave," Johnson said. "That's what America's all about."