Celebrating Memorial Day brings back memories of loved ones and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms so many of us take for granted. As I walked through Gering’s Westlawn Cemetery Monday, I was reminded of a snowy morning when community members came together to bury a prisoner of war.

First Private Class Sgt. Fae V. Moore enlisted in the United States Marines Aug. 8, 1941, and served in the Company E, second Battalion, eighth Marine Regiment, second Marine Division.

His Marine division fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal during November of 1942. The following March, Moore became Private First Class Moore as his unit was sent to New Zealand to train for the Battle of Tarawa Atoll. He received high marks from his commanding officer and was promoted to Corp. Moore July 20, 1943, and then a sergeant shortly afterward.

The second Battalion’s next mission was the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. The battle centered on the island of Betio, a two-mile long and less than half mile wide island. On the morning of Nov. 20, 1943, the second Battalion led the charge. With a low tide, the Marines were stranded by coral reefs. Still, over 5,000 Marines swam through heavy enemy fire to shore. Moore never made it.

His parents never knew what happened to their son, but on a snowy Oct. 6 morning, his nephew Lawrence Denton laid him to rest.

Watching an American flag covered casket roll into Beaver Valley Cemetery on a horse drawn, flat bed trailer through a parade of prisoner of war and missing in action flags, I could feel the community support and appreciation for his sacrifice.

While the majority of those in attendance did not know Moore nor his family, they braved the cold to pay their respects. That’s what Memorial Day is about, regardless of what day it occurs. It should not limit a nation from coming together one day a year to thank the men and women who sacrificed themselves for our country.

As I reflected on that moment, I walked around Westlawn Cemetery surrounded by far fewer people and a much older demographic. During Kevin Collins’ Memorial Day address, he noted the small crowd that had gathered to pay respect for fallen soldiers. As the names of deceased soldiers were read off and the ceremony concluded, Collins’ message lingered in my mind. Many soldiers never returned home and for some who did, they returned without thanks for their services. They walk among us with many concealing their service due to the nation’s reaction to the war. Some only wear their Vietnam, WWII, or Iraq war hats on Veterans Day or Memorial Day.

While this year’s turnout was mentioned by guest speaker Collins, Gering is not alone in low Memorial Day turnout.

In a letter to the editor by Bob Anderson in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, he said, “This was only too evident at the Support our Troops event at Sayre Park on Memorial Day 2003. Even as our troops are still coming under fire in Iraq, less than 50 people bothered to attend the event.”

Reports of low public turnout at Memorial Day services still continue.

The Milwaukee Independent reported low public turnout for the annual parade march this year.

What does this say of us as a nation? If this trend continues, will the stories and legacy of our servicemen become a page in a history book as the consumerism of the holiday consumes the true meaning of Memorial Day?

Just as we needed brave men and women to lay down their lives for the American flag, so to do those men and women who came home need our support to battle the mental and physical challenges brought on by war.

Memorial Day may be a three-day weekend filled spent with family, but the meaning of it should become a daily tradition to remember and thank those who protected and continue to protect America.

Lauren Brant is a reporter with the Star-Herald and the Gering Courier. Contact her at 308-632-9043 or by email at lauren.brant@starherald.com.