Memorial Day or Decoration Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering and honoring persons who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Originally known as Decoration Day in the years following the American Civil War (1861-1865), it became an official federal holiday in 1971 and is now called Memorial Day.
The holiday is currently observed every year is on the last Monday of May. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day particularly to honor those who died. Many volunteers place American flags on the graves of the departed. The American Legion posts in many towns and cities conduct programs and have "honor guards" with buglers. When I was growing up in Milford the graves were decorated with flowers in bloom at that time such as lilacs, etc.
My father, Ray LaFoy, was a World War I veteran, who was a charter member of Milford American Legion Post 346. He was very involved in Decoration Day ceremonies and activities. American flags are placed on the graves of veterans. Each grave of veterans has a metal marker and has the ability to hold a flag on a short wooden staff. Volunteers place the American flag on those graves.
When I was young, my father volunteered to place the flags on the graves at Milford cemeteries. He recruited my sister, Jean, and me to assist him in that venture. Dad gave us a bunch of flags and it was our job to locate the veterans' markers and place the flags. It was my first venture into the history of our country. Many of the veterans were from the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), American Civil War (1861-1855), Spanish American War (April 21, 1898-Aug. 13, 1898) and World War I (1914-1918). It was a real introduction to American history. At that age I knew that they were veterans like my father. My sister and I were honored to put flags on the veterans' graves for another three years and by then we learned where most of the veterans in the cemetery were buried.
The American Legion Post at Arnolds Park placed the flags on the graves of veterans at the Okoboji Cemetery for many years. I recall attending a Decoration Day ceremony there when I was very young. There was one older fellow who beat on a snare drum. He had a long white beard and, if I remembered correctly, he had been drummer boy during the American Civil War. Many of the drummer boys in that war were only 12 or 13 years old but even at that he must have been over 70 years old or older. I remember my father was not pleased with him as the old fellow didn’t hit the drum very well and the veterans had difficulty keeping in step.
I have participated in several Decoration or Memorial Day programs but one I remember very well. I served in the military in World War II mainly in China-Burma-India and was discharged in January 1946. That spring I attended Iowa State College and was home in Milford for Decoration Day. I had joined the American Legion earlier so I joined other veterans on Decoration Day.
There were quite a number of us and we formed and marched from downtown Milford to the cemetery south of town. I believe I carried a rifle and keeping in step was no problem. I had to admire some of the veterans from World War I keeping up. Roy DePue had no trouble as I recall. We performed our Decoration Day ceremony at the cemetery and marched back to town. The American Legion was headquartered at that time in the second story of a building on the west side of Main Street. The building is still there.
The Arnolds Park American Legion was very active for many years but had to disband for lack of members several years ago. They had been placing the flags on the veterans' graves for many years and conducting Decoration and Memorial Day services each year. Several of the ladies who lived in Arnolds Park were concerned about placing the flags to honor the veterans and came up with the idea of recruiting students at the Okoboji Middle School.
Mary Thunhorst, who taught American history, volunteered to bring her students over to the cemetery and have them place the flags on the veterans’ graves. It worked out very well and the students were really excited. Prior to the students coming to the cemetery, a power point program was presented informing the students of the historical significance of the day. The pupils had a great time and were thrilled to participate in that activity. They jumped right in and learned a great deal about our wonderful history. The original class has advanced and each year the students and teachers of the Okoboji Middle School continue to follow that wonderful tradition.
The Milford Avenue of Flags is another tradition in our area and it is breathtaking to see the flags on display. Each flag has a tag attached designating who that flag represents. My family has three flags on display-Ray LaFoy — World War I, Jean LaFoy Scanlon — Korean and Vince Scanlon — Korean. We thank the volunteers who reverently place the flags and take them down and store them for another year. God bless our veterans!