A crowd had already gathered inside the Bethel Lutheran Church at the north end of Washington Island when we arrived for the Memorial Day Service. The church was soon filled, with many people standing at the back or in the church entryway. Promptly at 10:30 am the Service began, led by the Commander of the American Legion Post 402. After a brief introduction and the Pledge of Allegiance, we all sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and a bit later in the program, “America,” “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and “God Bless America.”
What most impressed was the enthusiasm and vigor of the singing. As far as I could tell, there was no mouthing of the words or the half-hearted singing that would occur in a similar ceremony at Madison. Everyone sang with great gusto, as if they meant every word they sang. Most of the people attending seemed to know each other. Roughly a quarter of the Island’s permanent residents, plus a few visitors like me and my son-in-law Harvey Dunham, came together for this year’s annual event.
A highlight of the program was the award-winning Americanism Essays, read by three Washington Island school students. The subject was: “Should the Confederate Monuments Be Removed in American Cities?” The essays were thoughtful, well-written, and delivered in voices that could be easily heard throughout the church. Each essayist was presented with an Americanism Medal awarded annually by the American Legion Post.
Last year a special tribute, was paid to the Island members of the Merchant Marine whose lives were lost during World War II while manning the freighters that carried food and military equipment to England and to Murmansk Russia. This year marked the 100th anniversary of the American Legion; as well as establishment of Post 402 back in the mid-1930s.
Because of a light rain, this year’s Service had to be cut short. Instead of marching to the Island cemetery 400 yards down the road, and after that another 200 yards to the Schoolhouse Beach, we remained in the church to hear the names of the more than 220 Washington Islanders who served in America’s wars plus the names of the 14 Merchant Mariners lost in World War II. This was followed by a prayer, a moving recitation of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address by the church minister, a salute by the Color Guard and the Rifle Squad outside the church, the playing of “Taps,” and the bagpiper’s rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
What an impressive but sad event it was, commemorating a day whose meaning is lost to so many Americans. Most of the people attending the Service were regular Island residents, augmented by a few visitors like me (U.S. Army 1951-53) and my son-in-law Harvey Dunham (U.S. Coast Guard, 1974-78).
Memorial Day Observance: Washington Island, May 31, 2018 (prior year essay)
Reading in the Washington Island newspaper, the Observer, about the local Memorial Day Observance while visiting one of my daughters on Washington Island, I asked my son-in-law if he would be interested in attending this event with me. He said yes, and off we went to the northern part of the Island where the event is held, at the Bethel Church.
A crowd had already gathered outside the church. Inside the church was already half filled; soon it was completely filled, with additional chairs set up in the back, other people standing at the back, and still others in the good-sized entrance. By this time the crown numbered about 150, including those who remained outside.Promptly at 10:30 am the service began, by the Commander of the American Legion Pose 402. After a brief introduction and the Pledge of Allegiance, we all sang the Star spangled Banner, and a bit later in the program, America, America the Beautiful, and God Bless America.
What most impressed was the vigor of the singing. None of this mouthing of the words or the weak singing that would occur in a similar ceremony at Madison. Everyone sang with great gusto and enthusiasm, as if they meant every word they sang.
The program featured the reading of the awarded-winning Americanism Essays, read by three Washington Island school Students. The subject was how best to deal with America’s crime problems. The essay were provocative and delivered in voices that could be easily heard throughout the church. Each of three essayists was presented with an Americanism Medal awarded by the American Legion Post.
A special, moving tribute was paid to the 14 Island member of the Merchant Mariner whose lives were lost during World War II. Many had worked in the Great Lakes shipping industry prior to World War II. The Merchant Marine suffered severe casualties as a result of German U-Boat sinking these ships AS THY carried food and military equipment to both England and Murmansk Russia.
Following the service, members of the American Legion post led the march to the cemetery two hundred yards away where the names of deceased servicemen from World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam were read. Three bronze plaques list the names of the men and women who served in our country’s wars are located in the Island Square near the church. Following the reading of the names of the local men and women who service, there was a prayer, followed by a salute by the Color Guard and the Rifle Squad, the playing of Taps, and the bagpipers’ rendition of Amazing Grace.
The assembled crowd then marched another 200 years to the Schoolhouse Beach where a wreath was placed for Comrades who died at Sea. This was followed by another Salute from the Color Guard and the Rifle Squad, the paying of Taps once again, and the bagpipers playing Amazing Grace.
The morning’s event were impressive.
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About the Author
At age 92 I decided to showcase my recent and current writings on a variety of topics outside of my career interests as an economist. My wife Sally’s dementia, my experiences of war, and my interests in improving higher education all compel me to write.
For most of the last decade I maintained a low profile, necessitated by my wife Sally's suffering from a decade-long siege of vascular dementia. After she passed away several years ago I wrote about our experience, in the belief that this would be helpful to the many others who suffer from dementia and their family caregivers. I am currently seeking a publisher for my book manuscript: The Forgotten: Dementia and the Right to Die.
Over the past few years I began working on several other writing projects that are described more fully elsewhere in my blog. These include a nearly-completed book manuscript on my "expected proficiencies approach to the college major'' as a vehicle for reinvigorating liberal education. I continue to write on the shortcomings of UW-Madison's affirmative action policies and programs that over the years have been renamed "diversity and inclusion" policies and programs.
Within two weeks of my graduation from UW-Madison in June 1950, the Korean War broke out. I was drafted and expected to be sent to Korea to join our fighting forces there. But instead I was sent to Turkey for 18 months. How lucky I was. I am also writing a memoir of my Korean War military experience when I served as an U.S. Army adviser in our military aid program in Turkey.
Until I began branching out beyond economics, I failed to realize what a profound effect the Great Depression and World War II had on me as I grew up. I have already captured some of these recollections, with more of them to follow.
With that introduction, I turn you over to my blog entries as well as my other writing projects described more fully elsewhere in my blog. Best wishes ~ W. Lee Hansen
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Award-winning author W. Lee Hansen, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Full bio.