By Alex Stavisky
Today we honor those who have given their lives, their futures, so
that we can live and enjoy the freedoms of this great land.
On this day, millions of Americans will attend Memorial Day
services across our nation.
Many of us will attend services in small towns and villages we
have come to call “Home”.
Unlike most holidays, usually observed as joyous occasions,
today is a day of respect, reflection, and reverence. It is also a
day that will stir a variety of emotions in many of us.
To some, it will not only be a day to honor the fallen, but it will
also be a day to offer service once again, as with our proud
veterans who are participating in today’s services, many of
whom have done so year after year.
Today, some of us will reflect on the experiences of military
Some will recall the loss of a family member or friend.
Today, I recall finding my friend’s name on the “Vietnam
Words can never describe the flood of emotions one feels at that
instant of time.
For our young, who are just beginning their life experiences, this
day can be a day of opportunity. An opportunity for a learning
We must ask ourselves, what do we want our new generation to
take away from today’s services, because what they see and
hear today will become part of what shapes the character of our
With that thought in mind, it is those learning experiences in my
life and that of my family that I would like to share today.
Growing up in Lopez was truly growing up in “small town
For our generation, also known as “baby boomers”, Lopez was
Not the hustle bustle of city life, but a little village full of everyday
true life experiences.
Everything we needed was right here. We had employment with
the Weldon pajama factory and the Endicott Johnson Shoe
Company just over the hill in Mildred.
Those one-dollar-an-hour jobs fed a lot of families, and a lot of
We had a school, churches, and two grocery stores. We had a
well-worn baseball diamond and with the many trails, swimming
holes, camping spots, and creeks (which we pronounced,
“crick”) there were plenty of places for a kid to explore. Also, with
three taverns, Lopez had nightlife.
Dr. Saul, from Dushore, would travel here on Saturday to visit his
patients; and no matter what medication he gave you it always
seemed to cost just three dollars.
One of the first Memorial Day services I attended is still clear in
my mind. I remember being allowed to ride my bicycle to
town that morning if I took the baseball cards off the spoked
wheels and promised not to get in the way. I did my best.
It was in the mid-fifties. Lopez had many more residents back
It seemed to me that we had as many people in the parade and
ceremony as there were observers; so much so that I recall
riding my bike alongside the parade so as not to feel left out.
And I was not alone. Kids were everywhere.
We had the Turnpike High School Marching Band – I can still see
those glimmering uniforms as they proudly marched down Main
Street. We had floats, 4-H club marchers, young girls all dressed
up on hayrides, Legionnaires, our VFW, the Ladies Auxiliary, the
Lopez fire truck and (as I understand) on at least one occasion,
Mrs. Borick’s milking cows even got in the parade.
Mayberry had nothing on Lopez.
One thing that stood out to me were the soldiers that marched.
Those were the faces I saw every day. But on this day they
looked VERY different.
They were dressed in their vintage military uniforms, combat
boots, some with gaiters strapped tight, many rifles, flags flying,
and banners waving.
Seeing the proud look on their faces, hearing the sounds of the
cadence of their steps, the detail of the organization – it was all
unique to me at the time.
Something was far different than usual on this day.
Reflecting back to those days, it was a time when World War II
was still fresh in peoples’ memories. Many of our towns’ men
had brought back the scars of battle with them.
You could just see how proud we were as Americans.
America had played a major role in winning the freedom for the
world and the excitement of that hard-earned victory could be
seen in everything we did.
Our nation had never been stronger.
Our nation had never been more proud.
Our nation had never been more united.
Little did I know that what would come to be called,
“The Greatest Generation” was here, in Lopez, standing right in
front of me.
It was also a time when women’s voices were stronger then ever.
Women were a growing part of the workforce after proving
to be an invaluable part of the war effort. With over 12 million of
our most able-bodied men in military service, women were
called upon to do the many rugged jobs needed to support the
Without their hard work and determination, our military position
would never have made the difference. Surely many more
lives would have been lost.
You only have to remember the posters of Rosie the Riveter.
As my wife, Virginia, and I raised our family in Pennsylvania, we
attended almost every memorial day event in this little village of
Lopez. We even had our own spot; just a few steps away from
the cement stairs leading up to the memorial. And for our
children, Cindy and Mike, attending these services would
become that valuable learning experience.
Our family tradition was that after the Memorial Day service, we
would go up to St. Vladimir’s cemetery, up over Jackson hill, to
pay our respects. All the Stavisky side of our family are resting
there. It was on one of those days on the drive up that steep
cemetery hill that my daughter, Cindy, about eight years old,
said, “hey Dad”; “yeah Cind”, I replied, “why did they have to
As I started with a simple explanation about the circle of life, she
abruptly stopped me and said “NO” Dad; the soldiers, what the
man said at the parade”; (meaning that day’s speaker), “why did
the soldiers have to die?”
It was at that moment I realized two things. One, was that an
eight year old was listening; and two, my wife and I now
had another, very important, challenge added to our job
description as parents.
Continuing to attend the Memorial Day services here in little old
Lopez would eventually provide our children with many of those
It would provide context and understanding for the many
sacrifices that our military men and women make for our country
to continue to keep its freedoms.
It would provide the foundations for Patriotism and Civic pride.
It would shape an understanding of our time-honored traditions
and love of country.
Finally, it would build what has become an everlasting respect for
our great American Flag.