Temperatures were already climbing, inching toward triple digits, as a small crowd gathered at Burwood Cemetery on River Road at 10 a.m. Monday, May 31. The cemetery was the site for a Memorial Day service, hosted by the Escalon American Legion Gustafson-Thompson Post 263.
For the Legion members, it was the first of three stops on the day. The formal ceremony, with a wreath laying, 21-gun salute and a guest speaker, is put on at Burwood to start the day. Legion members then were scheduled to place wreaths and observe a moment of silence at both St. John’s Cemetery, adjacent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church along Highway 120 at the Escalon-Ripon line and at the Farmington Memorial Park cemetery along Escalon-Bellota Road.
The Monday morning observance at Burwood saw more than a thousand flags decorating the graves of fallen service members, with large American flags also lining the entryway to the cemetery.
Legion Post Chaplain Casey den Ouden welcomed those attending and offered a brief prayer, as well as listing the names of six Post members they have lost during the past year.
Guest speaker Allan Lial, a Post member, provided a little bit of history about Memorial Day, which was originally known as Decoration Day when it began in 1868. It was called that, he said, since the graves of service members were decorated on that day.
The Memorial Day holiday to honor those lost in service was brought into being by federal law in 1967, initially observed on May 30 but then changed to the last Monday of May in 1971 in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
“It’s no longer just a somber day,” Lial told the crowd, noting that families can join in for barbecues and parties because of the sacrifices service members have made in the past.
Lial served in the Navy for 22 years and is also a retired school teacher. He urged attendees to “take a few moments to pause and reflect” on what the flags on the graves and fluttering in the breeze mean; the sacrifice they symbolize and the families that were forever changed by the loss of a service member.
The ceremony also featured the laying of a memorial wreath at the flagpole, followed by the lowering of the flag to half-staff. A 21-gun salute was fired and Taps was played to close out the brief ceremony.
“It is an honor and a privilege to remember our comrades on this day,” said den Ouden.