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Memorial Day is about more than picnics and beach barbecues

Memorial Day festivities in Detroit Lakes ranged from the Avenue of Flags display at Oak Grove Cemetery. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham1 / 5
Memorial Day festivities in Detroit Lakes included a downtown parade and program at the City Park. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham2 / 5
The Lakes Area Veterans Color Guard marched down Washington Avenue to lead off the Memorial Day Parade festivities Monday morning in downtown Detroit Lakes. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham3 / 5
Dr. Thomas Seaworth, a U.S. Army veteran who has made his home in Detroit Lakes for many years, delivered the keynote address at the Memorial Day festivities Monday morning in Detroit Lakes. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham4 / 5
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Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer — a day that many local residents spend enjoying a picnic in the park or a day at the beach with friends and family.

But as U.S. Army veteran Dr. Tom Seaworth pointed out at Monday’s festivities commemorating the holiday at the Detroit Lakes City Park, it is about so much more.

“Today, we’re gathered here to honor those who have gone before us and given the ultimate sacrifice,” Seaworth said.

Originally, Memorial Day was dubbed “Decoration Day,” he noted.

May 30, 1868 was the day specifically dedicated to honoring the 620,000 Americans who died in the Civil War, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country during the late rebellion,” wrote General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, in making the official declaration.

By the time the 20th century rolled around, however, the holiday had been re-designated as Memorial Day — a day to honor all Americans who had died in the service of their country, at home or abroad.

Seaworth said that while he was serving with the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Germany, he had the opportunity to witness firsthand some of the places where the battles had been fought “that allowed Europe and the United States to remain free.”   

“Sixteen million Americans served in World War II — God bless each and every one of you, we would not be here today if not for your service.”

Seaworth also talked a little bit about being deployed from Germany to the Middle East, to serve as medical support for soldiers serving in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

“It was the most scared I’ve been in my life,” Seaworth said of making that first trip to the Middle East — and especially having to leave his wife and three young children behind in Germany.

“My biggest fear was leaving them,” he said, noting that he, like all the soldiers who had served before, during and after his term in the Army had gone with the same purpose in mind: “Do our job, complete our mission, and get home to our families — I was fortunate to be able to do that.”

But the only reason why he and so many others were able to return home was because “we were the best prepared and best trained military force in that theater of operations,” Seaworth said.

His role was “to take care of any allied or enemy forces that were wounded” and came to the hospital where he was serving — and “there was not a single casualty brought to us that did not survive.”

Seaworth also talked about how many of those who do survive combat are often left with strong feelings of guilt, for being able to come home when their comrades did not.

“I would ask you not to (feel guilty),” Seaworth said.

Instead, he urged them to “dedicate yourselves to making this a better community, and a better world.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454