Polo recognizes Memorial Day with annual parade, ceremony

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8455 Auxiliary member Julie Young, left, stands next to VFW Post 8455 Commander Max Snook as he salutes the grave in Fairmount Cemetery dedicated to all the unknown soldiers after hanging a wreath in their honor during Polo's Memorial Day ceremony on Monday, May 27, 2024.

POLO — A blustery wind cooled scores of Polo residents as they trailed down North Division Avenue after the annual Memorial Day parade.

The gusts continued as they gathered in Fairmount Cemetery, located just north of the city, where the May 27 procession ended and a ceremony was set to take place at 10 a.m.

“What is Memorial Day?” asked emcee Cynthia Reynolds, a U.S. Army veteran and Patrick Fegan American Legion Post No. 83 commander. “We decorate the graves with flags or flowers. We have parades and ceremonies, and we remember and honor our fallen. But what is it? Where did it come from, and where did it start?”

The concept of Memorial Day can be traced to the Civil War as a way to recognize the sacrifices of those who died in a war that pitted family against family and nearly tore the country apart, Reynolds said. May 30 became known as Decoration Day, she said.

It was a few years after the end of the Civil War when a veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic was formed, Reynolds explained. On May 5, 1868, Gen. John A. Logan – the first commander-in-chief of the GAR – issued General Order No. 11, declaring Decoration Day was to be called Memorial Day and that it would be observed annually, she said.

The GAR disbanded in the mid-1950s with the death of its last member, but Memorial Day remains 156 years after General Order No. 11 of the GAR was issued, Reynolds said.

“The fact that we come together on this last Monday of May to honor our fallen, to appreciate what was sacrificed by them to keep us safe and free and to continue that legacy by serving in the military is a testament to our dedication to the founding principles of our nation and those who came before us,” Reynolds said.

The keynote speaker was Becky Davis, a U.S. Air Force veteran who retired after 20 years in the military with a rank of master sergeant.

Davis recalled her reason for joining the military about one month after graduating from Polo Community High School in 1995. College wasn’t for her, and she didn’t really know what she wanted to do, Davis said.

She didn’t know what to expect upon entering basic training, either, she said. She had seen a video at the recruiter’s office, but that was about it, Davis said.

“It’s a bit different when you get there,” she said. “You go through basic training where they tear you down as an individual and build you back up as a member of the military.”

The training never stopped, but that’s because they need to know how to do things without thinking about it, Davis said. The things they were training to do had to become second nature.

“During my time in the military, I had both great and challenging times,” Davis said. “One thing that always got me through were the people that I served with. The people who became your family, the people who you go through a deployment with that went through it with you, and the people we lost along the way.”

Something all veterans have in common is that they left home and took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, she said.

“We all did what we were told, mission first, no matter what,” Davis said.

Davis said she takes pride in recognizing Memorial Day and all the people being honored as part of it.

“Behind every name that has paid the ultimate sacrifice is a story of courage, selflessness and unwavering dedication to our country,” Davis said. “We need to continue to honor those that upheld the highest ideals of duty, honor and service. We must remember them by doing what we’re doing today – coming out here, participating in our ceremonies, sharing what Memorial Day means. We must honor them.”

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner reports on Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties for Shaw Media out of the Dixon office. Previously, she worked for the Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Michigan, and the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.