As the taps were played at the Johnson County Courthouse Monday morning at the annual Memorial Day ceremony and observance, the moving notes made it hard for those gathered to maintain dry eyes.
Korean War veteran Bill McDonald, a member of the Franklin American Legion, says it’s such an emotional ceremony that he can’t help but to tear up.
But hosting the event every year is a critically important service the Legion does for the local community, “so we never forget” the courage and sacrifices of veterans who gave everything for their country, McDonald said.
The program this year included a talk by keynote speaker Larry Gesse, a Franklin attorney and Vietnam War veteran, as well as the playing of the taps and national anthem, and a presentation of wreaths by local service and veterans groups on the Johnson County courthouse lawn war memorial.
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The memorial seemed to draw more people — perhaps three times as many — than it did in 2016, according to Webber LaGrange, 90, a World War II veteran, who attended with his family, including his grandson, Matt LaGrange. LaGrange is the past national treasurer for the American Legion and has been going to the Memorial Day ceremony for several decades.
He sees the uptick in attendance as a positive sign of the times.
“More than ever before,” he said, the importance of the ceremony — which honors local and national veterans who gave their lives in service to the country — continues to resonate with both veterans and civilians.
LaGrange served on a battleship in the South Pacific during World War II, and his father was one of the founding members of the Franklin American Legion.
“With the effect on behavior social media has had on politeness, it seems like, from the number of people here today, that patriotism is having a resurgence,” LaGrange said.
Many in the crowd were younger — groups of very young children were gathered with families as they solemnly listened to the speech and stood with their hands on their hearts during the taps and national anthem.
Others gathered are regulars who come every year, including Franklin resident Mike Demaree.
“I think it’s important to be here,” he said. “It’s important to honor and remember the people who paved the way for us to have the freedom that we have.”
Randy Weathers, post commander of the Franklin American Legion, said that continuing to spread the message of remembering fallen veterans gets harder, the further away from present day that historic wars such as World War II or Vietnam get in the minds of the public.
But the Legion’s message is hitting home. Weathers, a veteran of the U.S. Army, said that when he and other volunteers were putting the last crosses into place on the courthouse lawn the previous weekend, two pre-teen boys rode past and asked about the crosses and what they were there for.
It was a great opportunity for Weathers and the others to talk to the boys about the local war veterans and the wars that they died in. Weathers said he was pleasantly surprised to learn that the boys had learned a few things about America’s wars — but also enjoyed hearing a little more from Weathers and the others.
“They were impressed,” Weathers said.