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A true, literal Memorial Day

May 29, 2014 - By Betty Starks Case

The memories just sort of reach out and fit themselves into place, and you murmur, "Oh yes, remember the time ... ?"

How about our Memorial Day 2014? Was that a perfect day?

We gave thanks for the lovely weather, even as memories lingered of years when we thought we might make news by drowning in Mountain View Cemetery while decorating graves in a downpour and trying to anchor flowers in the wind.

This year, fragrant with lilacs in full bloom, lush grass sprinkled with tiny blue violets, birds sending happy music from the trees, and puffy, white, sailboat clouds floating in blue skies, we asked, "How flawless can a day be?"

This year, 100 years after World War I began, we attended military services to honor veterans of the century who gave years or, in many cases, their lives, that the rest of us might enjoy the freedoms of America.

I remembered my mother, just weeks before her passing from this world, determined to stand nearby for Memorial Day services to honor her longtime husband, a veteran of World War I, my brother holding his coat around her as the wind blew and a chill rain came down. But she stayed.

Memorial Days can take you on so many trips to the past as you wander among the markers of relatives, friends, and acquaintances - all a part of the years that make up our lives.

The memories just sort of reach out and fit themselves into place, and you murmur, "Oh yes, remember the time ... ?" And you laugh or squeeze back a tear.

This year, as we've done many times before, my mate and I walked to the white military marker of our high school classmate, Olin D. (Deyo) Neil, who to us symbolizes the military men of our youth and brings back the carefree times of those days.

We seemed a rather odd threesome, for teens. Yet Deyo was a friend of us both. Our trio ice skated on Ocean Lake in winter, drove around on a summer afternoon, stopped to eat watermelon that Deyo sliced with his pocket knife. I still recall how I shuddered. He defended his tool with a mischievous smile and, "It's clean. I used it to dock lambs just this morning."

We shared many high school events, smiling at Deyo's serious concern that my red cheerleader skirt "seemed a mite short." And later, letters back and forth from California, where Deyo was working, to Rapid City, S.D., where I furthered my education, and to and from Ned, who'd remained in Wyoming.

Later, after Ned and I married, Deyo wed a pretty little girl named Roberta, and the four of us spent happy times together. Deyo soon entered military service, where he gave his life for the rest of us, including the baby daughter he left behind.

Always, we remember and thank my brothers -- Bud, Ralph, Jim, and father Steve, our loved nephew Walter Case (Sonny to us), and brother-in-law Marvin Davis, who inspired us so many ways in his short life. And the many friends whose names grace our lives and history with years contributed to military service, assuring that the rest of us might live free and safe.

Memorial Day in my own childhood was exciting for my sisters and me as we watched our father wrap the long, olive-colored leggings around his World War I uniform pants legs to march in a military parade at Belvedere, S.D.

Later, our father participated in a baseball game. A picnic followed for all to share. And before we started home, a visit to the drug store where my sisters and I felt awe and a bit of fear as the elderly pharmacist handed us ice cream cones while wiggling his ears.

My father's metal helmet, as I may have mentioned before in this column, bore a deep mark where it had been grazed by a bullet. It seemed a hallowed object to me. It had kept him alive to become my father, to wrap a muscled arm around me nightly in childhood and once again as a middle-aged woman to say, "Good night, my good little girl."

The helmet was stolen by someone to whom it meant nothing when my parents moved from one home to another in later years. They just hadn't got the old trunk of life treasures moved yet - and lost them. I hope the helmet may yet appear in the Riverton Museum.

My dad's World War I uniform, I'm happy to say, does reside at the Riverton Museum. Former curator Loren Jost once generously brought the aged uniform out of storage for me to see, to touch -- a special treat and an honor I'll always remember.

This family also treasures our father's "Letter from Luxembourg," dated Nov. 25, 1918. From the tiny country between Belgium and Germany, the letter from Stephen Starks tells of the excitement and appreciation of the German people when liberated by the Americans, our father-to-be included.

"I expect there was also great rejoicing in the states when news of the armistice was received," he wrote.

Rejoicing indeed.

Thank you all for your service. You still make a difference. Every day.

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