For Stella Mears, Memorial Day is a salute to sacrifice deeply ingrained in her personality.
From an early age, she was brought up to cherish the holiday as something far more important than the unofficial start of summer and an excuse to barbecue.
“People have to remember who made our land,” said Mears, secretary of Joint Veterans Council of Shippensburg. “Who saved our land [and] fought for the freedoms we have.”
Reverence for Memorial Day began with her father, who was active as a charter member of American Legion Post 223. There are deep ties running through her lineage.
“I have somebody in my family that was in every branch of the military, even the Coast Guard,” she said. That includes her father, grandfather, in-laws, children and grandchildren.
What troubles her is the lack of young people joining the ranks of volunteers who organize the annual Memorial Day commemorations in Shippensburg and elsewhere across the country.
“Too many of us are getting too old,” Mears said. “We are trying to get people to come out.”
Because fewer people serve in the military, the deeper meaning of Memorial Day has become harder for many to grasp, said Kurt Minnich, chairman of the veterans’ committee in Silver Spring Township. He said most people lack the tangible connection that comes with a family member who has served and sacrificed.
A retired Army master sergeant, Minnich was on active duty during the first Gulf War and in the reserves during a deployment to Iraq from 2005-06. He remembers how his daughter, now a high school senior, once wrote a paper about how his service overseas impacted her life as a young girl.
Navy veteran Pat Reed was among the first females trained as an electrical technician in that service branch. In the mid-1960s, she worked in the main communications center in Washington, D.C.
Today, Reed is the chairperson of the Joint Veterans Council of Newville, which organizes the annual parade and ceremony in the downtown.
“Memorial Day is a day to honor our veterans … to think of the sacrifice that our forefathers have made to give us this wonderful country,” Reed said. She said interest in the meaning of the holiday has faded and is not what it used to be.
“Our freedom, our liberty, our way of life came through the efforts of the military,” said Neal Delisanti, a retired Army officer and current Cumberland County director of veterans’ affairs. He said veterans who died in combat and those who died years later at home share a bond.
“They served their country when their nation asked them to serve,” Delisanti said. “They did it with an open mind and a free will and they did it honorably.”