Memorial Day Address
May 29, 2006
by Weldon Hoppe
Lest We Forget
Many of us have memories of Memorial Day in Farnam, I'm sure. As a young boy, I remember creating posters for the contest sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. The posters were displayed in the store windows in town before Memorial Day to honor the veterans and the sacrifices they made for us. The posters included drawings of things like poppies and military crosses and had common themes like "In Flanders Field" or "Lest we Forget."
Lest we forget. That's why we're here today, isn't it? We're remembering and honoring the service of the men listed on this stone behind me. Each name is a story of Duty, Honor, and Country. Duty served, with honor, for their country.
Other memories include how my grandparents' generation used to call this day "Decoration Day" and I have special memories of helping my dad put out the flags on the veterans' graves early in the morning. Other memories have been erased by time. Some things, however, should never be forgotten.
The event that we are participating in today was originally called Decoration Day. That's because in 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, 5,000 people decorated with flowers the graves of over 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at the cemetery. That was the start of a tradition that took place at cemeteries all over the country that year and for years to come.
I don't know exactly when this tradition started here in Farnam, but I do know that for a number of years, a Decoration Day program was conducted in town, after which the band and Civil War veterans led a procession to this cemetery where a military salute was given and wreaths or flowers were laid on each soldier's grave.
This tradition of remembrance of each individual soldier should never be forgotten.
Much of this tradition was borne out of the obligation that a soldier feels toward his fallen comrades. As long as a Civil War veteran survived, that soldier was dedicated to honoring the memory of the departed comrades on Decoration Day. During the First World War this sense of honor was reignited in Farnam as the community sent out its own, men and boys who called Farnam home, to answer President Wilson's call: "To fight for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life."
In 1918, with patriotism running high, as 72 young men had gone into service from the community, about a thousand people assembled in Farnam on Decoration Day in honor of the Nation's war heroes.
During the program a telegram was read from one of the Farnam soldiers:
The boys of Farnam, though scattered over the world, send our love to the home folks, our respect and greetings to the old soldiers, and appreciation to all. We pledge anew to the flag you raise today, our loyalty, and [our] lives, and assure you, not a star shall be slighted. From Lieut. Alfred E. Reeves
From the Farnam Echo, 6 June 1918
Lt. Alfred Reeves and the boys of Farnam who answered the call should never be forgotten.
The fact that few, if any, of us here today were at that program in 1918 does not mean that we should feel any less gratitude for the service, or any less sorrow for the loss, of the servicemen who fought to defend our freedom. The freedoms they defended and fought for are just as fragile today as they were then.
Some of the men who went off to war from Farnam came back, lived their lives and were eventually buried here. Fifteen of the World War I veterans listed on the memorial stone are buried in this cemetery. Two names are of men who died in France and were buried over there.
Glenn Conover, served with a machine gun battalion and died from influenza and pneumonia while in France, just a week before the war ended. As many men died from disease in World War I as did in combat. Glenn is buried at Somme American Cemetery at Bony, France. His parents, sister, aunt and uncle are buried here.
Glenn Conover and his service to his country should never be forgotten.
One soldier's name not on the stone, Howard Nickerson, volunteered soon after the war started and served in the 128th Infantry, as did his brother, Clifford. Howard was killed in action during the Battle of Argonne in France, just a month before the end of the war. He is buried at Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery at Romagne, France. Howard's parents, brothers, nieces and nephews are buried here.
Howard Nickerson and his loyal service should never be forgotten.
Leonard Banks also served in the infantry and was wounded during the second battle of the Marne, about a hundred miles east of Paris in July 1918. He recovered and was returned to duty a month later. Leonard was killed in action on October 4th during the Battle of Argonne. His family did not receive notice of his death until two months later. His body was later returned and buried here, where his parents, brothers, and sister are also buried.
Leonard was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his acts of heroism in battle, the second highest military award given by the U.S. Army. Nearly 5 million men served during the First World War and only 6,300 received the Distinguished Service Cross. The letter of commendation sent to his father, Swan Banks of Farnam, reads as follows:
"Private Leonard S. Banks, deceased, Co. G, 4th Inf. (A.S. No. 2213782) For extraordinary heroism in action in the Forêt de Fère France, July 23, 1918. Badly wounded while on patrol, Private Banks returned to his company to get assistance for wounded comrades. He then volunteered and led the first-aid men through heavy gas and shell bombardment to the place where his wounded comrades were."
From the Farnam Echo, 6 March 1919
Leonard Banks and his bravery should never be forgotten.
The diary of a soldier who was also in the Battle of Argonne helps us understand what the conditions were like and appreciate even more the hardships those soldiers faced:
Oct 3 - 450 Americans laying in these woods and can't get them out. We that could walk, got out. The roads to the hospital are all blocked. Heavy rains and cold. Had to pack grub up to the front on mules. [Leonard Banks died the following day]
Oct 10 - The noise is over for a few days, then we will move up again. We have lost quite a bunch on this setting. Those who didn't get hit, are sick. The air is full of poison and the ground is all iron and dead laying all over. It is a God send that it is cold and there is no flies. [Howard Nickerson died two days later]
Oct 16 - Got a can of water out of a shell hole and took a bath, the first one in a month, and the first time I have washed my face in 5 days.
Oct 18 - Out all night last night. Rain and cold. Stayed in the dugout today and slept. The first good sleep in a month.
Oct 29 - Packs [laying] all along the road. Blood everywhere.
Oct 31 - The mud is awful I am a regular cake. Couldn't hear good and found out my ear was full [of mud]. Haven't washed for so long have forgotten there is such a thing. The river is full of dead horses and men. The shell holes are full of green water, all poison. [Glenn Conover died four days later]
From the diary of Waggoner James Pierson (http://www.worldwar1.com/dbc/pierson.htm)
So that we might appreciate what the soldier has suffered on our behalf, the ugliness of war should never be forgotten.
Seventy-two boys of Farnam went out to defend and protect our freedoms during the First World War. Two of these gave their lives in battle and did not come home, that we and the world might remain free.
The price of freedom is sometimes great. In just six weeks in the Battle of Argonne, over 26,000 American soldiers died in combat and many others from disease, including Leonard Banks, Howard Nickerson and Glenn Conover.
The price paid for our freedom should never be forgotten.
In closing, I would like to read the names of the 72 boys of Farnam who answered the call during World War I, as printed in the Farnam Echo on January 23rd, 1919:
These men and their loyalty to country should never be forgotten.
I regret that we don't have time today to hear the story behind each name of
the boys of Farnam because they all deserve to be heard. We must repeatedly
recall these stories at times like this, and the stories of all those who have
gone out from Farnam to defend our freedom, lest we forget.
Published: 8/9/2020 - http://www.historicfarnam.us/cemetery/index.asp
Hosted and Published by Weldon Hoppe