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Memorial Day 2023 Revisited - Keith Poffenberger's Speech

By: Dylan Bowman, HAHS Board Member

June 27, 2023

As nearly a month has passed already since Memorial Day 2023, it is right in my mind that we should revisit the memory of those fallen men and women, as we should nearly every day of our lives.

Therefore, I hereby present the speech of Halifax VFW Post 5750 member Keith Poffenberger that was presented at the ceremony of the Halifax Memorial Day Parade. In so doing, we preserve his words and his call for remembrance for generations to come.

Poffenberger's Speech Pt. I: Memorial Day Observance, May 29th, 2023

"Welcome on behalf of the Ginter/Koppenhaver VFW Post 5750 and the Loyd/William American Legion Post 648. I want to thank you for taking time along with us to honor the veterans who died in service to our country, as well as those who returned home and now rest in our cemeteries."

"Having an interest in historic facts and data, I want to note some facts about this day.

Bob Bower then noted the general order declaring Decoration Day, asking for all those who had flowers to place at the Memorial Marker in Halifax Veterans Park to do so."

"On the first day of observance of that order, Declaration Day, held May 30th, 1868 (for the first time), 5,000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery while General James Garfield made a historic speech.

There are numerous stories about where the birthplace of Memorial Day was. What is documented is that in 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the birthplace because of a ceremony held on May 5th, 1866, which honored veterans that fought in the Civil War."

"It wasn’t until after the Great War, now designated World War I, after World War II, that Memorial Day became a day to honor military personnel who died in all wars.

In Arlington National Cemetery is a monument known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Commemorative efforts arose out of the grief from the Great War. France and Britain were the first to choose one of their unidentified fallen soldiers to be buried with honors representing the vast numbers who died."

Poffenberger's Speech Pt. II: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

"In December 1920, a New York congressman and WWI veteran, Hamilton Fish, Jr., proposed legislation to bury one of America’s unknown soldiers at a tomb to be constructed in Arlington National Cemetery. Congress approved the legislation on March 4th, 1921 and on Memorial Day 1921, four bodies of unknown soldiers killed in action from American cemeteries across France were to be exhumed."

"On October 29th, 1921, Sgt. Edward F. Younger of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 50th Infantry, stood before the four identical caskets at city hall in Chalonsur-Marne, France, to choose who would be buried in Arlington. He chose the third casket from the left and placed a spray of white roses on the casket."

"In November of 1921, the casket was transported to the United States and placed in the Capitol Rotunda. November 11th, 1921, the casket was taken to Arlington National Cemetery where President Warren Harding presided over the funeral service. There was a simple marble slab placed over the grave."

"In 1926 a more detailed monument was commissioned to be designed and built. The inscription on the monument reads:"

“Here rests in Honored Glory an American soldier, known but to God.”

"Since then, soldiers have been interred from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. However, with DNA advances, the Vietnam veteran (within the tomb) was identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie and, at his family’s request, has been removed from the crypt."

"My reason for noting the tomb’s significance is that the additional interments for the unknowns were scheduled for May 30th."

"Originally, the tomb was first guarded by soldiers in 1926 to keep people from stepping on the marble slab. In 1937, that duty became the duty of the Old Guard belonging to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, which was established in 1784, making it the longest-serving active-duty infantry unit in the U.S. Army."

"The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Except for weather conditions such as lightning or hurricanes."

"Guards do not wear rank while performing their duty, ensuring they do not outrank the soldiers in the tomb."

"The guards’ patrol is 21 steps, turn and face the tomb for 21 seconds, about-face, shift arms, hold for 21 seconds, and then 21 steps back to the starting point. This represents a 21-gun salute, which signals the highest of honors."

"And so I thought it appropriate to note this monument and its significance to honor the veterans who died in battle as well as those who served this country in conflict and in peacetime."

"As a youth growing up here in Halifax, I can remember the enthusiasm that my father, his brothers, and the other men had on Memorial Day getting ready for the parade and then the program in the cemetery with a military salute and taps to conclude the honors. It seemed that everyone in the community were veterans; some WWI, mostly WWII, and some like Mark Pieffer who had been a POW."

"I now want to note to those who are here today that have served in the military that you should face the flag and salute during the playing of taps.

I also want to note the significance of the poppies. In 1915, inspired by the poem 'In Flanders Fields,' Moina Michael wrote these words:"

“We cherish too the poppy red

that grows on fields where valor led.

It seems to signal to the skies

that blood of heroes never dies.”

"She then conceived the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day. And so, wear a poppy to honor those who have served this country."

"Once again, I want to thank you for helping our veteran organizations to commemorate this Memorial Day with being here and sharing in this honoring of our veterans."

Keith Poffenberger

May 29th, 2023

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