Adorned with yellow, white and purple chrysanthemums and a bounty of other flowers from individual gardens, cemeteries across Utah County were dressed in florals over the weekend as part of the annual Memorial Day ceremonies, celebrations and family get-togethers.
In Provo, the pine trees at the Provo City Cemetery blew softly in the morning breeze as the sound of a rifle salute — performed by Metro Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, Team —cracked the air and then silence as one lone bugler played Taps.
“It is a sacred day,” said Mayor Michelle Kaufusi as she welcomed about 200 people to the city’s Memorial Day Services.
“We honor those who believed in service before self,” Kaufusi said. She referenced a quote from President John F. Kennedy that encouraged American’s to be more than they are.
“Take appreciation a step further with action,” Kaufusi said. “As you leave today keep the fallen in your hearts.”
The Memorial Day service is sponsored by America’s Freedom Festival. Paul Warner, executive director, reminded those attending of the yearly processional of the Old Guard at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
The Guard puts a flag on each headstone and then salutes it in a brief moment of devotion before moving on to the next headstone and the next, Warner said. There are about 200,000 flags on headstones for this Memorial Day in Arlington.
Former Utah County Commissioner Doug Witney was the keynote speaker in Provo. “I stand here as a veteran of the Vietnam War,” he said.
Witney was drafted into the Army at age 19. He went through basic training and was in the 1st Infantry Division, and was shipped to an air mobile unit in Vietnam.
He shared stories from his experiences in Vietnam.
For seven and a half months his job was to set up ambushes and to kill the enemy. “It sounds harsh by today’s standards,” Witney said.
“I was on a search and destroy team that every night ambushed trails,” Witney said. “I was made a sergeant at age 19 and continued for two and a half more months to do the same thing.”
He said he remembers at his emotional lowest he was sitting on a helmet in a heavy monsoon rain. He was covered in leaches, ringworm, boils and had mosquitoes and ants crawling all over him.
“I testify there are no atheists in foxholes,” Witney said.
He was one of the lucky ones pulled off the line to go see the Bob Hope show right before Christmas. However, the first day of the Christmas cease-fire he engaged the enemy.
“There was never really a cease-fire,” Witney said. “So many North Vietnamese strafed the hill all night. They had mined the whole area.”
Witney got shot through both thighs. While he dreamed of going back to his unit while in the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the doctors told him he would be going home.
“The lessons I learned over there were: there is a God, families are important, freedom and country are important, and each one of us has a time in this life,” Witney said. “When I was shot, it wasn’t my day to die.”
The one-hour service also featured the voices of the Treeside Elementary School Choir, a charter school in southeast Provo.