DLA Distribution commander Army Brig. Gen. Richard Dix delivered the keynote address at the Friends of Midland Cemetery annual memorial service Saturday, May 28, 2016.
Dix began his remarks by calling over 25 youth from the audience. As the young people gathered around Dix, he had a discussion with them about the national anthem, and the importance and sacrifice of the fallen warfighters in the cemetery. He talked about how Francis Scott Key wrote the last stanza “the land of the free, and the home of the brave” to explain the past, present and future. Key ended the stanza with a question mark to remind us that at any given moment, there are soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines serving in harm’s way in some of the most austere, difficult environments in the world, fighting so that we can continue to be a free country with opportunities for our young people. Dix urged the young people standing before him to seize the opportunities put in front of them.
Dix then described to the audience how Barbara Barksdale came to the cemetery 25 years ago to clean up her grandfather’s grave, only to discover the vast amount of history within the cemetery. She started organizing the community to preserve and restore the cemetery and eventually formed the Friends of Midland organization.
“This is hallowed ground, a place of peace, tranquility and beauty where every headstone is a book of history. We are standing among slaves, freed men, the United States Colored Troops, Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen, and Montford Point Marines,” said Dix.
Dix explained that while exceptional valor and sacrifice has occurred in all of America’s wars, we did not always honor our fallen with a day dedicated in their honor. In fact, the first Memorial Day was not called Memorial Day. The observance of this day was born of compassion and empathy in 1863. “As the Civil War raged, grieving mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and other loved ones were cleaning confederate soldiers' graves in Columbus, Mississippi, placing flowers on them, just as Ms. Barksdale has taken care of her grandfather’s grave. They noticed nearby the union soldiers' graves were dusty and overgrown with weeds,” explained Dix.
Grieving for their own fallen soldiers, the confederate women understood that the dead union soldiers buried nearby were the cherished loved ones of families and communities far away. They cleared the tangled brush and mud from those graves as well as their own soldiers' graves and laid flowers on them as well. Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of veterans with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30th. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. So it wasn’t until 1971 that Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day.
During his remarks, Dix recognized Eartha Beaty, a 90-year-old Montford Point Marine, one of the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps, with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Montford Point Marine Association. Dix will present the Congressional Gold Medal to Beaty on June 15, 2016, at an awards ceremony at DLA Distribution’s Organization Day in New Cumberland, Pa.
DLA Distribution is also proud to be a part of the Department of Defense’s Vietnam War Commemorative Partner Program honoring the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the war. The program is designed for federal, state and local communities, veterans' organizations and other nongovernmental organizations to assist a grateful nation in thanking and honoring our Vietnam Veterans and their families. Dix is on a personal crusade to say “Thank you” to the Vietnam veterans that have served our country. “I am humbled that I followed in their footsteps. We are going to right a wrong that was done to those men and women,” said Dix.
Dix then called the names of the 23 Vietnam veterans forward to be recognized with Vietnam commemoration pins and certificates. In addition, family members of several Vietnam veterans who are no longer with us came forward to be recognized.
The Memorial service included music, a presentation by the Steelton Elk’s Youth Dept. #21 Steppers, music by the Spiritual Messengers, and concluded with a salute of volley and taps by the 3rd United States Colored Troops re-enactors.