Many reminded of purpose of Memorial Day |

Many reminded of purpose of Memorial Day

by F.T. Norton
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Jesse Bensinger, 7, of Carson City, helps arrange American flags on gravesites of Veterans at the Lone Mountain Cemetery on Friday afternoon.

For the families of 30 Nevada National Guard airmen who returned from a tour in Iraq on Friday, the Memorial Day weekend will be joyous. But for many others in the region, this day of remembrance will be more painful than they ever imagined.

“This Memorial Day will be different in that the pain is still so raw. It would be unbearable to attend special services,” said Sue Ruhl, of Gardnerville. Ruhl’s grandson, Marine Cpl. Christopher D. Leon, 20, of Los Angeles, was killed June 20 while conducting combat operations in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq.

“When I think that there are more than 3,850 other families going through the same sense of grief, pain and suffering, it becomes overwhelming,” she said.

Knowing what the pain felt like, Ruhl reached out to the South Lake Tahoe family of Army Pfc. Phillip Brandon Williams, when Williams lost his life in Iraq on Oct. 10.

“May God grant you peace and the knowledge that Brandon was a true American hero and that he will never be forgotten, but will live on in your memories forever,” Ruhl wrote on an Internet message board – one of the dozens that chronicle the lives of servicemembers who have died in recent conflicts and have sprung up in the four years since the War on Terror began.

On one such site,, created and maintained by an Oregon photographer known as Q Madp, he offers a suggestion for observing Memorial Day.

“This Memorial Day, no matter where you plan to be, please set an extra place setting at your table … even if it’s a picnic table. Add a glass or cup holding a small U.S. flag and a white rose or white carnation. Before you eat, have one person explain clearly to all present what this is for and tell them of our fallen heroes (who) paid the price for our freedom,” he said.

Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service to the country.

First observed on May 30, 1868, to honor those who died in the Civil War, the focus changed after World War I to honoring those American servicemembers who died in any war.

Many argue that when Congress made the day into a three-day weekend in 1971 and the observance was changed to the last Monday in May, it made it easier for people to be distracted from its purpose.

“Memorial day should be more than shopping, hamburgers, steaks and stuff like that,” Madp wrote on his Web site.

The Nevada Office of Veterans Affairs keeps track of those with ties to Nevada who have lost their lives in operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We do this so that the state knows how many actual Nevadans were killed,” said DeeDra Cornelius, executive assistant to the director.

As of Friday, more than 58 names were on the list, including a 40-year-old female Army lieutenant colonel who attended college in Las Vegas and died in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001; married Sparks father-of-two Marine Lance Cpl. Donald J. Cline, who was the first Nevadan killed in Iraq; and the most recent losses of Army soldiers Sgt. Anthony Schober, who attended Douglas High School, and Army Pfc. Alejandro Varela of Fernley.

“We keep track of Nevada’s fallen heroes,” Cornelius said.

Brad Williams, father of Pfc. Williams, said he is unsure how he will spend Monday.

He said he may attend church and pray, or he might clean the gravestone of his son.

“It’s going to be a little tough,” Williams said.

May 29 would have marked the 22nd birthday for the younger Williams, whose ultimate goal had been to follow his father’s footsteps into law enforcement.

Monday will be as any other day since word of Brandon’s death.

“Every day has been Memorial Day,” Brad Williams said.

Ruhl, the Gardnerville grandmother, echoed that sentiment.

“It is not only Memorial Day that we will remember Christopher’s sacrifice, but every minute of every day,” she said.

Proper etiquette for flying the American flag on Memorial Day

On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.

Mourning is indicated by flying the flag at half-staff. You hoist it to the peak first, hold it there for an instant, then lower it to half-staff. One-half the distance between the top and the bottom of the staff.

On the Net

Web sites that track the deaths of servicemembers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan:

• William Ferchland contributed to this report. Contact reporter F.T. Norton at or 881-1213.


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