Memorial Day this year brought great memories, and I’d like to share some of them with you.

I remember a Mount Vernon Memorial Day parade of the past, when Josh and Hilary Smith high-stepped past me in the parade, bringing back more memories.

I remembered the 1960s, not the decadent drug-filled antiwar decade, but my high school days in Winthrop, at that time the quintessential small town of families, churches, ball fields, and patriotic Americans.

Band director Frank Stevens drilled us up and down the hills between Greenwood Avenue and Bowdoin Street after school until we were ready to strut our stuff on Memorial Day. Eventually we got so good that Frank took us to march in President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Inaugural Parade.

But marching down Main Street in Winthrop was always our peak performance. The parade route was long and when we finally got to stop I was usually standing in front of Wilson’s Dollar Stores, where I often worked beside my dad. Someone offered a prayer, someone else a speech. Then we marched back up the hill, satisfied with another fine performance, ready to hit the town beach for an afternoon of swimming.

Later when I returned as an adult to give a Memorial Day speech in Winthrop, I reminded myself that I could not remember any of the speeches I’d heard over the years, but I remember all of the music we played.

As a high school senior, I was selected to play taps at the cemetery, a very special honor. Standing alone at the far end of the cemetery, waiting for my partner up at the Main Street entrance to finish playing so that I could offer the echoing response, gazing around at the tombstones decorated with flags, I found real insight into what some veterans gave up so that we might be free. And I played my heart out for them. Just remembering that moment gives me chills.

For many, Memorial Day is picnic day, beach day, golfing, fishing, a long weekend. Perhaps you didn’t even attend a parade, offer a prayer, listen to a speech, give any thought to our veterans. Because of them, you are free to do that, free to do anything you please.

On one of those Memorial Days that I remember, the Smiths returned a day early from camp so that Josh and Hilary could march in the parade. They had never marched before so we knew it would be special.

Mount Vernon has a particularly deep patriotic fervor driven by community spirit. The parade, which actually starts up the road in Vienna and proceeds all the way to Mount Vernon village, is both entertaining and stirring.

Anyone can march; all you have to do is show up. Sometimes there are more people in the parade than lining the road. After all, it is a day to march and who wants to stand by while all your friends and neighbors are having fun in the parade.

I manned a video camera to capture it all. Just as my folks have the proof, on video, that I marched and played with gusto, I knew someday Josh and Hilary would look at videos of themselves with fond memories.

More than 130 years ago the inhabitants of Waterloo, New York, began this national celebration with an all-day observance including a parade, barbecue, speeches, prayers, and the decoration of the graves of 20 Union soldiers.

The speaker that day was General John Logan. Two years later he issued the order providing a nationwide observance of the first official Memorial Day held on May 30, 1868.

Logan proclaimed, “The 30th day of May, 1968, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion… let no vandalism or avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic… if other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remains to us.”

The original date for Memorial Day was chosen so that there might be flowers blooming that could be used to decorate the many graves.

On Memorial Day we remember not only Civil War veterans but also veterans from the Spanish-American War, two World Wars, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and other battles.

Bravery, bugles, sacrifice, freedom. Remember.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.