Perhaps Maj. Gen. John A. Logan would have smiled upon viewing the military cemetery in Boulder City, where red and white roses lay on the graves.
In 1868, Logan, the head of an organization of Union veterans, declared May 30 a day America’s war dead should have their graves decorated with flowers.
On Monday, speakers at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery stressed the importance of observing Memorial Day for its original purpose.
Lt. Cmdr. Jessie Sanchez, commanding officer at the Navy Operational Support Center in Las Vegas, noted that Memorial Day often brings to mind sales and recreation over a long weekend.
“Today is a day we set aside as a day to remember,” Sanchez said.
On a bright, sunny day with few clouds in the sky, reminders of that sentiment were clear among the several hundred people who gathered to honor troops who died in U.S. military service.
Visitors wore T-shirts bearing phrases such as “never forget,” “ultimate sacrifice” and “brothers in arms.” Veterans from U.S. wars ranging from World War II to Afghanistan attended with their families and friends at the cemetery, where 25,896 miniature American flags dotted the roughly 35,500 graves, officials said.
The flags waved above green grass on the gravesites, set against a faraway brown backdrop of mountain vistas. Canes, wheel chairs, flags, jeans, dresses, baseball caps, the ambling gait of children, the pitched shuffle of veterans were part of scenery. Some people circled around gravestones taking pictures in large groups, gathering almost joyously. Others stood alone or in pairs, staring down for minutes on end without moving.
Albert Puente, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf War, walks with a cane from a knee injury suffered during training in Fort Benning, Ga. When he looked for information on the Memorial Day event on the Internet, Puente said only parties, sales and events at casinos came up, which he called “a tragedy for everyone who’s served.”
On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved Memorial Day to the third Monday of every May and several other holidays to Mondays, arranging for convenient three-day weekends. At the federal level, the law took effect in 1971.
A telling moment came when master of ceremonies Bob Garlow, a Vietnam veteran, asked veterans to stand and be recognized. Five World War II veterans stood, followed by roughly 11 from the Korean War, several dozen from Vietnam, then only a handful for the Gulf War and Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
Puente, whose grandparents, father, and several uncles and cousins served in the military, expressed complex feelings about the state of military service.
“I owe a lot to the Army,” he said. “It fed and clothed me, and taught me values.” On the other hand, he expressed reservations about the fact that only 1 percent of the U.S. population serves in the military. His own children, who are young, have asked him about the possibility of serving.
“It doesn’t seem like a just burden for them to carry for the rest of the country,” he said. “It’s up to them.”
Other young people at the service stood in attention. After the service, high school students from the South Nevada Devil Pups, a leadership program trying to raise funding to train at Camp Pendleton, began the nearly five-hour process of bundling and storing the nearly 26,000 flags to store for next year.