When it comes to the last Monday in May, many Americans take a viewpoint similar to what Laurence Christian once had.
“Growing up, Memorial Day really had no special meaning for me, other than it was a day off,” Bethel Park’s municipal manager acknowledged. “I remember the days of barbecues and parties. It did not hold the meaning it does today.”
A career in the U.S. Army, in which he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, contributed to changing Christian’s perspective.
“What I have come to understand – for those who have lost a soldier, a sailor, an airman or Marine in combat – Memorial Day is sometimes too personal to share,” he said. “The memories of those lost are difficult to bring to the surface. But sharing is what keeps their memory alive.”
Christian served as guest of honor for Bethel Park’s Memorial Day ceremony, held at the Veterans Memorial in front of the municipal building and preceding a patriotic parade for the occasion.
“To those of us left behind, we assume the charge of remembrance and of sharing. We remember the places. We remember the faces. We remember their might-have-beens. We remember their could-have-beens,” Christian said. “We remember the memories of so many lost, and collectively, we remember their sacrifice.”
Monday’s ceremony helped mark the 21st anniversary of the Veterans Memorial, which lists the names of Bethel Park residents who lost their lives in wars from the Revolution to Iraq. As part of the proceedings, Christian joined Mayor Jack Allen in placing a wreath at the base of the monument.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t have the ceremony last year, so it’s extra special to have it here again this year,” the mayor said in welcoming those in attendance on what turned out to be a warm, sunny morning.
An Army Security Agency veteran of the Vietnam era and former American Legion Post 760 commander, Allen spoke further about special occasions dedicated to military personnel.
“Armed Forces Day is for those still in their uniform,” he said. “Veterans Day is for those who hung up their uniform. And Memorial Day is for those who never made it out of their uniform.”
He thanked the volunteers who helped organize the ceremony, along with U.S. Navy veteran Daniel McPoyle for the occasion’s flags and flagpoles, and Duprees Root 88 Flowers and Garden Center for the donation of flowers and plants.
Among the guests who spoke briefly was U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, a Marine Corps veteran.
“In my job, for the last three years, I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of Gold Star families, too many, really,” he said, referencing the nationwide nonprofit created to provide honor, hope and healing to those grieving any military loss.
“They never ask for anything material, any kind of thing from the government. They just ask that we do everything we can to remember their loved ones. They don’t want to feel like their son or daughter is ever going to be forgotten,” Lamb said. “So the fact that all of you would come out here and stand, even in the back, and be part of this ceremony is really honoring exactly what it is these families need to be able to put one foot in front of the other and go on without their loved ones.”
A fellow former Marine, state Sen. Devlin Robinson, R-Bridgeville, provided a history lesson about the origin of dog tags, the military’s identity-revealing oval discs, with Civil War soldiers.
“In their final moments, they wrote their names and their addresses on the inside of their jackets, so that they might be able to have a gravestone with their name on it and a letter home to their families, to tell them not to expect them home,” Robinson said. “Those who survived took it one step further and began decorating those graves, some of them unmarked.
“Today, so many generations later,” he continued, “I look out a beautiful memorials and crowds of people who show up for Memorial Day to observe and pay their respects for those who came before them and guaranteed our way of life.”
Among those showing up for Bethel Park’s observance were Christian’s wife, Navy veteran Anne Marie Christian, and father-in-law, Army veteran John Regan, just two of many of Laurence’s relatives to serve their country.
He offered a quote attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur: “The soldier, above all others, prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest scars of war.”
“These wounds and scars are unseen, but yet lay a heavy toll on those who bear their weight,” Christian reflected. “I feel blessed to be a part of a military family that allows these memories to be shared and the burden lessened.”