OLEAN ã Every spring they gather around a table in the back room of the Olean VFW to plan a keepsake of the battles they’d rather forget and the friends they’ll never forget.
They will leave the lights off except for the billiard lamp hanging above the table. Sitting in the rectangle of light, there will be about a dozen veterans.
The usual suspects take their usual places.
Jeff Linn, Legion Post Commander and Vietnam Veteran, will be seated at the north end of the table. John Volz, a World War II veteran, will be seated at the southern head of the table. Around the sides will be Ed Goodliff, Tom Scanlon, Craig Neuland, Bill Hilliard, Paul Miller, Tom Sandy and Gary Hendryx.
Each year they plan the joint Olean Veterans Memorial Day Parade. And every year they hope for sunny skies and crowds to line North Union Street.
But this year it’s a little different.
This year, while planning the parade, American men and women were dying in Iraq. And some of the soldiers in danger are their friends and family.
Mr. Scanlon is a Vietnam veteran. His sons, Jim and Tom, were called up for active duty for the war in Iraq.
“It’s hard on families,” he said. “I see it on my grandkids’ faces when they think their dad is coming home. I pick them up from school every day.”
Mr Scanlon said Memorial Day is not just about remembering soldiers past and present, but about showing respect and appreciation for their families.
“You don’t think about it, but you can’t take families for granted,” he said. “Many families in the area have service members on active duty and just about everyone knows someone in the service. These families are also making a sacrifice. I think it’s important for us to remember that freedom is not free.”
Mr. Hilliard is the first vice commander of the Olean American Legion. He is also a member of the Army Reserve.
“You never know when that call might come in to pack up and leave because they need you,” he said.
VFW veteran and member Ed Goodliff said Memorial Day is a chance for everyone to give thanks to the military and the military.
“Since last year, 120 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for the freedom of this country,” he said. “Young men and women are overseas right now and many of them are citizen soldiers, people with families. They need and deserve all the respect and appreciation that America can muster, because they’re out there doing that for us.”
Hilliard said planning for this year’s Memorial Day celebration has special meaning for him because many of his friends and contemporaries are in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It makes you very motivated,” he said.
Mr Linn urged everyone to attend a Memorial Day celebration today, to let service members know they are appreciated.
“A lot of them lost their lives there,” he said. “And they were away from their families and their homes. We should show them some respect.”
Olean’s Memorial Day Parade begins at 10 a.m. today at the corner of Sullivan and North Union streets. The parade will proceed to the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
A wreath will be thrown into the Allegheny River to commemorate those who have lost their lives serving the nation at sea. There will also be a gun salute and the game of Taps on deck. The ceremony will continue in the Veterans Field of Honor at Mount View Cemetery.
Following the ceremony, lunch will be offered at the American Legion on East State Street.
First called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was established in 1868 to honor the dead from North and South who fought in the Civil War. People were invited to lay flowers and flags at veterans’ graves.