With a perfect blue sky as the backdrop at Wildwood Cemetery in Williamsport, PA, a crowd of people gathered to honor Civil War Soldiers on Memorial Day. The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) circle was adorned with flapping American flags and a crowd that many commented was much larger than it has been in years past.
“I can remember my dad bringing me here as a boy,” said Marc Tupper, a lifelong Newberry, PA resident and Army Veteran. “Some years there were no people. This is by far the biggest crowd.”
Jim Carn, former District Judge and member of the Williamsport City Police Force, echoed Tupper’s estimation of the crowd, also remembering attending the annual Civil War Soldiers Memorial Day celebration with his father.
The ceremony began with a welcome by Acting First Sergeant Wayne Sager, followed by a Ritual for the Grand Army of the Republic Service Invocation. The crowd participated by singing “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee), and later in the ceremony they sang a rousing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
The celebration is in part “for us to keep green the memory of their heroic services,” noted First Sergeant Sager, who gave remarks about the Color Guard who marched on the battlefield carrying our symbol of freedom.
Both the wool bunting Martinsburg flag and about 50 percent of the remnants from the silk State Colors carried by the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War still exist, First Sergeant Sager told the crowd. The recovered flags are housed in the flag repository on Third Street in Harrisburg, available to the public to view by reservation only.
Three booming blasts by Cannoneer Matthew Henry signified the end of First Sergeant Sager’s remarks, followed by a single bugler standing apart from the crowd who played “Taps.”
Buckets of carnations donated by six area florists awaited the gatherers who were invited to walk through the 191 graves within the G.A.R. Circle and place flowers next to servicemen’s graves.
Perhaps starting a new father-son tradition were Stephen Vickery and his seven-year-old son Wyatt Vickery from Williamsport. The father and son wandered the circle and placed a few carnations at the base of graves, heads bowed in respect.
“I thought about how tough they had it,” said Wyatt after placing his flowers, visibly moved by the act of respect. "I thought about how hard it was, and about all of the buddies they had.”