Early this morning, Ted and I walked over to the Post Cemetery and attended the brief ceremony held to honor the soldiers who died at Fort Mackinac. Sixty-three U.S. soldiers are buried in the cemetery, along with 15 of their family members and six civilians. The majority of the soldiers were killed in the Battle of 1814 during the War of 1812, although the oldest headstone is for a soldier who died in 1797, and the most recent is for a soldier’s death in 1891.
As last year when we attended, the solemn occasion was made more poignant by the young men and women who march up to the cemetery from the fort – just as they would have since 1868, when Memorial Day was officially designated. They were dressed in period costumes – the ladies in Victorian gowns and hats, the soldiers of the color guard in period uniforms.
After gathering the small crowd within the cemetery fence, Phil Porter, Director of Mackinac State Historic Parks, had a brief service, Taps was played, and one of the ladies laid a wreath at one of the graves. The soldiers then fired their weapons three times in salute to the fallen.
It is always heart-tugging to me as a mother to think about the young men – boys really – who lay in these graves. When they left home for war in the 1800’s, they had every intention of returning – back to their parents, back to sweethearts or wives, back to continue their lives and raise their familes. I still had those thoughts in mind when Ted and I walked downtown later this morning to the City Memorial Day service.
Veterans Park on Market Street is an area that is considered almost hallowed ground on the island. Here islanders honor the men and women of the island who have gone off to war. There is a monument listing every resident who has served in any branch of the military, and there is a stone marker honoring the three men of the island who gave their lives for their country – one in World War II, one in Korea, and one in Vietnam.
At the service today, six flags given by Louis Bunker (one for each branch of the armed services plus the Merchant Marines) were raised for the first time, joining the U.S. and POW/MIA flags. All flags on the island were flown at half-staff until noon, and at the end of the service at Veterans Park – as the noon siren sounded throughout the island – every flag on the island was raised once again to full-staff.
This special service brought home once again the small town uniqueness of Mackinac Island and its residents. I know these people now. I look at the Honor Roll and see family names of people I’ve met in the last two years, and know that these are the grandfathers, fathers, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews of the faces I see every day. Smi Horn spoke of the day the island received word that Joseph Chapman had been killed in World War II. On this island that news probably spread in minutes to everyone who lived here – not by cellphone or internet, but by word of mouth. And in minutes, an island was mourning.
This monument stands at the Veterans Memorial in memory of Sgt. Joseph H. Chapman, Pvt. John D. St. Onge, and Spec. 4 James H. Dankowski, all three killed in action – one in each of three different wars. With my heart already touched by thoughts of the young men in the Post Cemetery, and then seeing the notation at the bottom of this stone marker, the reality of war struck me as it possibly never has before.
“Where now you stand, as boys they played.” How that brings it home. I have watched the children of this island play here on this corner. These three young men – one 23, one 20, one 21 – once also played in this same spot. They grew up here on this island and went off to war – fully intending to come home again to continue their lives. They did not.
And Mackinac Island remembers them – every Memorial Day and each time they walk past this small park.
Mayor Margaret Doud closed her part on the program with these words: “For those who were lost, may you rest in peace. For these who continue to serve in harm’s way, may you safely return.”