Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

May 28, 2012

Memorial Day held special meaning for everyone in my family

As a person who was raised by a family that considered Memorial Day to be right up there with Christmas and Easter, I hope everyone reading this will take time at some point during the day and give thanks in whatever way they chose to American men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice and laid down their lives in defense of liberty.

John 15:13; “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” My dad had very little formal education, but he loved the Bible and he took it into his heart. He had been labeled “retarded” by the orphanage he was sent to, but the institution did not take into consideration the fact that his parents both died when he was a 1-year-old child and a pre-teen sibling tried to raise him, his brother and other sister. I think she did a good job.

In one of our most meaningful heart-to-heart conversations, by dad told me that when he put on a U.S. Army uniform in February 1942 and a civilian asked him, “Soldier, what time is it?” from that moment forward, he knew who he was. He drew his entire identity from being a soldier. Although he was a buck sergeant, he never made us kids make up a bed so tight that a quarter could bounce on it. Dad earned his stripes on the battlefield. He buddies said that he could keep his cool under fire.

Both of my parents felt the same when it came to Memorial Day. They didn’t worship the dead, but rather, they respected what everyone had done in life.

As a child, I got excited about Christmas, but every year, our family spent more time preparing for Memorial Day. Dad spent some time each week working with the James R. Hunt Post 639 American Legion drill team. He did more than just call cadence and drill the squad through the precision three-shot rifle volley. Dad helped the young guys look sharp in their white helmet liners and white military leggings.

My mom’s job in the Memorial Day observance was to tend to the graves of dozens of our ancestors. The writing on many of the headstones had vanished after a century or two of exposure to the elements, but my mom — a civilian like her father and her grandfather — believed that all family members should be remembered on Memorial Day.

My sister, Peggy, took up that responsibility when we were young primarily because I was the family’s designated National Anthem singer. One Memorial Day I sang the “Star-spangled Banner” five times, once at the 6 a.m. reveille service at the post home, a second time at the Claysville Cemetery, once at the Purviance Cemetery, once at a Little League game I played in and again that evening for the dedication of a baseball field in Taylorstown, Pa.,

Memorial Day was a way of life for us. I remember when Peggy became passionate about doing something for the many unmarked graves in the Potters’ Field section of the Claysville Cemetery. The town had been around since the late 1700s, and mom took me to decorate several graves that dated back to the start of the 19th century, but Peggy put her energy into caring for the souls who nobody knew. She was good about stuff like that. My brother, Stu, continued that tradition after Peggy died.

I didn’t make any promises to my mom when she passed away in March 2011, but I put it in my mind that I needed to continue at least some of those family traditions even though it would be easier on me just to stay here at home and deal with the things I do every day. Before mom died, I remember trying to figure out a way to get to Claysville and still be able to help her with at least breakfast and supper. A couple of weeks ago when I drove up to the cemetery with a back seat filled with flowers that my wife picked out for me to plant, I thought about how hard all of those trips we took up there together must have been on her.

It finally got too hard for mom to make the trip in the spring of 2003, and we changed our Memorial Day traditions for a while. After I finished planting the flowers Evonda picked out and rinsed off the headstones with water I had brought with me, I spent some time thinking about life and how much my family had given to me. I smiled as I described the day aloud and I sniffed back a tear or two when I thought about the good times we spent on the front porch watching the world pass by on the Old National Pike. I have countless memories of those times and I can think about them at the drop of a hat. That’s a joke for my mom.

Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at

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