Memorial Day Memories
In Flander's Field
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row,"
John McCrae's poem inspired the sale of poppies to observe Memorial Day and honor those military service people who gave the ultimate for their country. Eight hundred fifty World War II veterans die every day (estimated). A year ago the median age of a World War II veteran was 86. As of September 30, 2009 there were approximately 2,272,000 living. Using the 850 per day figure, that puts the number still alive down to 2.1 million -- but as they get older, the daily death rate will most likely increase.
When I first heard those numbers, they seemed high, until it was pointed out that more than 16,000,000 Americans had seen action in World War II. One of them was James Hyatt. Hyatt served in the U.S. Army Signal Corp. His unit was in Patton's Third Army and responsible for land communications such as telephones.
After the war, Hyatt returned to the mountains of Western North Carolina and with his wife became well known in square dance and clogging organizations. His street was eventually named for his avocation as a "dance caller". In retirement from his civilian occupation, he developed COPD and always had an oxygen tank nearby.
State Senator Joe Sam Queen
North Carolina State Senator Joe Sam Queen, a long-time family friend of Hyatt's was instrumental in organizing the 2008 Memorial Day Parade in Waynesville, NC. Queen was surprised and enthusiastic about Mr. Hyatt's extemporaneous participation in the parade. Hyatt and his family were seated on the parade route enjoying the show, when Hyatt made the decision not to let this parade continue without him.
The end of the parade was approaching, so Hyatt grabbed his portable oxygen tank and got to his feet. He stepped off the curb and began his march down Main Street behind the last unit. Hyatt’s spontaneous participation was a fresh and unexpected surprise. Everyone thought the parade was over. The crowd lining the parade route experienced a contagious emotional reaction that began with smiles, waves, and cheers. For many observers, Hyatt personified their patriotism, loyalty, and resolve. A young boy joined him and waved a flag. Many veterans and supporters stepped out into the street and shook his hand; many saluted. When he reached the end of the parade route, there was scarcely a dry eye on Main Street.
Last week I had the chance to speak to Senator Queen about his long-time family friend. "Mr. Jim was a great man -- a great mountain man. He was a great square dancer and caller. Our families go way back. He was a dear friend. He was a loyal patriot and loved his country."
Hyatt's march inspires the crowd.
Mr. Hyatt’s decision to join this parade was timely. He died on July 19, 2008 leaving us this timeless image of dignity, courage, and determination as he passed the torch to the next generation.
"The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields."