Tag Archives: Memorial Day

On the Significance of Memorial Day

–submitted by Jessica Giesen

VA Sec Mary KolarOn May 20, 2020, VA Secretary Mary Kolar gave an insightful presentation regarding the significance of Memorial Day. She first offered information regarding the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and the services and benefits provided for service members in Wisconsin, where 345,000 veterans reside. The WDVA works hard each day to ensure that veterans have access to all benefits available to them. The programs the WDVA oversees extend from administering the Wisconsin Veterans Museum (a Smithsonian affiliate that welcomes 90,000+ visitors each year), where it continuously educates the public with unique stories and histories of Wisconsin’s veterans, to veterans’ cemeteries where our veterans receive honorable burials, to providing access to mental health and housing assistance.

Sec. Kolar then turned to Memorial Day, a holiday dedicated to remembering those who lost their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The day’s meaning and purpose, she explained, “is profoundly rooted in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the inherent desire of veterans to remember their comrades who never came home.”

The individual stories Sec. Kolar told of Wisconsin servicemen who lost their lives in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War were equally inspiring as they were heartbreaking; they brought this author, for one, to tears: Stories such as that of Morris Togstad, who was the last from Madison to die in World War I and Victor Glenn, one of the first to die in World War II — two men for which the street “Togstad Glenn” in Madison was named. Then there were the Barber brothers – Malcom, Randolph and LeRoy – whose father wrote to their leaders and asked that they be separated and assigned to different ships should anything happen. Unfortunately, prior to that happening, all three remained together aboard the Oklahoma on the fateful Sunday morning of December 7, 1941 – the attack on Pearl Harbor– and all three lost their lives. The USS Barber is named in their honor.

We all reflect together on Memorial Day each year, but it is important to also honor those who serve to protect us throughout the entire year, as well as their families who support them and have been left behind. We can honor these memories through acts of kindness and acts of citizenship – by sharing stories, by voting. Sec. Kolar reminded us that we can never, ever honor our fallen service members enough. This year, as Memorial Day approaches during the COVID-19 pandemic, our community will be unable to gather in person across the state at veteran’s cemeteries. However, a Wisconsin Virtual Commemoration will be held on May 25, 2020, to honor and reflect. Please visit www.WisVetsMemorialDay2020.com to be a part of that special program.

If you missed our online Rotary meeting this week, you can watch it here.

Memorial Day Remembrances

–submitted by Stan Inhorn; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

From left: Jason Beren, Jorge Hidalgo, Andrea Hidalgo and Moses Altsech

From left: Jason Beren, Jorge Hidalgo, Andrea Hidalgo and Moses Altsech

New Rotary member Jorge Hidalgo recounted the history and significance of Memorial Day in very personal terms. After the Civil War, in which there was a tremendous loss of lives, Decoration Day was established as a time to decorate the graves. In 1902, the name was changed to Memorial Day, a day to recognize soldiers who died in all wars. Memorial Day became a Federal holiday in 1967, and in 1968, the date was established as the last Monday in May. A special flag ceremony is prescribed in which the flag is raised to the top, then lowered to half-mast. In the afternoon, it is raised again. Starting with World War I and to the present, 617,448 American lives have been lost. Since 3/11/2001 in the global War on Terrorism, 6,845 lives have been lost.

Jorge is a graduate of West Point, and his three sons also pursued military careers. He described in personal terms the heartache sustained by those who lose a son in war. First he told of Richard Warner, a close friend of his son Jared from the Milwaukee area. Rich was in a Marine regiment serving in the so-called Triangle of Death in Iraq. He wrote to Daren about the wonderful children he met in Iraq. At age 22, he was killed by an Improvised Explosive Device. A video of his life from childhood to adulthood and then to his memorial service ended with a statement that it is an honor to have lived for others, not for one’s self.

Daren, born on 3/4/86, was an honor student and a wrestler in high school in Waukesha. After graduating from West Point, he took an additional year of training in Ranger school. He also went to Airborne school, and was trained to be a combat lifesaver and a hand-to-hand combat instructor. In 2010 his platoon went to Afghanistan. Before he went, his father asked him what his legacy should be if he were killed. His answer was to support soldiers who return as well as their families. Daren was injured when another soldier tripped a wire to an IED. His injury required antibiotics and treatment in Germany. He returned to Afghanistan, and during passage through a choke point, another IED took his life.

To honor Daren, the Hidalgo family has established a scholarship for a needy wrestler to attend college. Furthermore, the family has promoted the hiring of veterans and their families. They support various charities such as the Fisher House of Wisconsin that will provide housing for families of veterans in the Milwaukee Veterans Hospital. Rotary members were deeply moved by this personal tribute to two of our military who made the supreme sacrifice.