By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
EXETER– Most everyone knows that Memorial Day is not just another three-day weekend. It is an opportunity to pause for those who lost their lives in defense of this country. But for those who assembled at the Exeter Cemetery on Monday, they learned a little more about the day.
Stan Dillon, a Vietnam veteran and second time keynote speaker for Exeter’s Memorial Day celebration, went back to his teaching roots in his address on Monday. The long time Exeterite rattled off seven unique facts about the day Americans use to extend their weekend and remember those who gave all for country.
Seven facts to remember
Dillon noted that Memorial Day as we know it was once called Decoration Day. Soldiers would decorate fallen comrade’s graves with flowers, flags and wreaths in their honor. Memorial Day would become its official title in the 1880s but wouldn’t legally become Memorial Day until 1967.
The second fact Dillon stumbled upon in preparation for his speech was a memorable note after the Civil War. General John J. Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, called for a holiday commemorating fallen soldiers to be observed every May 30. But due to the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971, Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May to ensure a three -day weekend.
Thirdly, Dillon recounted that in December 2000, Congress passed a law requiring Americans to pause at 3:00 p.m., local time, on Memorial Day to remember and honor the fallen.
“I can only imagine that this must be the most broken law in America,” Dillon said in his speech.
In his fourth fact, Dillon said that before becoming the U.S. president, James A. Garfield delivered the first national speech on Memorial Day on May 30, 1868. At the time Garfield, a Civil War general, was a congressman and addressed several thousand people at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I also found a unique talent President Garfield possessed. He could write in Greek with one hand and Latin with the other hand, and he could do both at the same time,” Dillon added.
Dillon’s fifth fact was that nine states observe Confederate Memorial Day in honor of those who died fighting for the Confederacy. Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia all observe the day on varying days. Only Virginia observes the holiday on the last Monday of May.
The sixth fact Dillon noted was that in 1966, Congress unanimously passed a resolution officially recognizing Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day.
And lastly, the Exeter keynote speaker said that more than 36 million people have traveled at least 50 miles from their home this Memorial Day according to AAA.
Before launching into his seven facts, Dillon expressed that the people who had gathered at the Exeter Cemetery were there for more than just a Monday off.
“Hopefully, and obviously, for those of us gathered here today, it has a much more significant and earnest purpose. It is Memorial Day. A day for remembrance and honor to those who gave their lives defending the Constitution of the United States of America,” Dillon said.
Dillon himself is a veteran, having served during the Vietnam War. After receiving his draft letter, Dillon gave up a baseball scholarship to UC Davis. After all, what is the point of a scholarship when you aren’t going to make it back home anyway, so he thought.
“You’d see the pictures every night on TV,” he said.
The images they portrayed were of little hope for survival. More than 58,000 American lives were lost in the conflict, most of them between 18 and 25, Dillon noted. The war lasted almost 20 years. The deadliest years were during the end of the 1960s, right before Dillon was drafted. In one week, February 11–17, 1968 during the Tet Offensive, 543 Americans were killed in action, and 2,547 were wounded.
Dillon, however, was sent to Heilbronn, Germany, where he served as an Artillery Survey Specialist with the 3/84th Field Artillery, Pershing Nuclear Missile Battalion. His older brother, John, was sent to Vietnam, and he come home alive; but there were other Exeter High grads who did not.
Dillon, now a retired teacher, last spoke at the Memorial Day ceremony in 2013. At that time he spoke specifically of the Vietnam War.