Hope Legion continues six-decade tradition

Hope, IN

By Kirk Johannesen, johannesen@therepublic.com
Assistant Managing Editor, The Republic (Columbus, Ind.)


(May 21, 2015) Members of Hope American Legion Post 229 will gather at their headquarters Monday morning — rain or shine — to continue a tradition that is at least six decades old.
They will wear white shirts, blue slacks, their uniform caps, dark ties and blue sport coats if conditions are chilly. The members will make sure seven rifles and ammunition needed for three volleys are in order, plus four ceremonial rifles. They will go over last-minute details then travel to eight locations over the next three hours to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. armed forces.
The Legion’s annual Memorial Day ceremonies are part of the fabric of the cluster of small communities in northeastern Bartholomew County, attracting a handful of people at some stops and sometimes 200 at Hope Moravian Cemetery, the final destination.
Regardless of the turnout, the Legion members who participate in the ceremony and others who attend feel a calling to honor their brothers in arms.
“First of all, they were neighbors and friends and people we respected,” said 96-year-old Taylor Ross, a World War II veteran who served aboard the USS Nassau in the U.S. Navy.
Ross, a former post adjutant, used to participate regularly in the ceremonies, usually with the rifle squad.
“I felt like I was honor bound to do it and owed it to the memories of the veterans,” he said.
Ross attended last year’s ceremony at Hope Moravian Cemetery. If his health allows, he’ll be back this year.
‘We’re patriotic’
When exactly the Legion’s Memorial Day ceremonies began is unclear, but it was quite a while ago.
Ross recalls as a teen seeing American Legion members driving to the cemeteries for ceremonies. A.C. Reeves, 72, said that as a boy, starting around age 6 or 7, he would ride with his father, World War I veteran Alton C. Reeves, to the various cemeteries, where his father and the other post members would perform the ceremonies.
Those are fond memories for Reeves, the current post adjutant and a U.S. Army veteran who was stationed in what was then West Berlin from 1966 to 1968 at the height of the Cold War.
“I remember going along with my father and his buddies when these services were held on the traditional day, May 30. That was also the day of the Indy 500, and the guys would jump back into their cars right after each service and eagerly listen to the race on their AM radios as they drove to the next stop,” he said.
Although a federal law changed the date of the holiday to the final Monday in May, the commitment to the ceremonies remained the same for the Hope Legion post.
“Part of it, I guess, is small town. Part of it is we’re patriotic. We’re sons of guys who used to do it,” Reeves said.
A minimum of 13 Legion members are needed to perform a ceremony: a chaplain, the post commander, seven for the rifle squad and four to present ceremonial rifles. If more participate, that allows for a rotation of members performing duties with the rifles, providing a break along the stops.
‘Respectful ... traditional’
When members gather at the post in the morning, the mood is jovial as they catch up with each other, Reeves said. But their mood is somber when performing their duties.
“It’s respectful, it’s traditional,” Reeves said of the ceremony.
The commander begins the ceremony with a short speech, and his words will be followed by those of the chaplain. Local Boy Scouts present flowers, the rifle squad will fire three volleys, a bugler plays taps and the American and American Legion flags are hoisted.
Preparation for the Memorial Day ceremonies begins about a week before, Reeves said.
The Boys Scouts are notified, a bugler is secured, and floral bouquets are ordered. An engraver is hired to add to a granite memorial at Hope Moravian Cemetery the names of veterans who have died in the past year, such as the 11 added this year. Legion members symbolically also erect 71 white crosses — the number required for a patterned formation — at the Moravian cemetery and put a small American flag on top of each.
Legion Post 229 has about 100 members, of which a couple dozen are active, Reeves said. Annual dues of $45 — a portion of which goes to the state and national American Legion organizations — largely covers the costs associated with Memorial Day preparations, he said.
The post’s dedication to recognizing and remembering deceased veterans earned its current and past members the Patriot Award at the 2005 Honoring Veterans dinner. That honor was atypical because the award usually is given to an individual, but it was deemed fitting considering the long communal effort.
The tradition of placing white crosses at Hope Moravian Cemetery dates to 1952, when Hope residents George and Velma Reed noticed the absence of personal recognition of veterans in the town. They decided to make individual crosses and inscribe the names of deceased veterans. The first year, 150 crosses were erected.
New crosses were made and added to the display each year as more veterans died. Eventually, there were so many crosses — about 550 — that the task of storing and erecting them became a challenge. The solution was to raise funds for a permanent memorial. A $15,000 granite tablet was dedicated Nov. 12, 2000, at Hope Moravian Cemetery. The crosses erected now are symbolic and do not have names.
‘Their duty never ends’
Bob Clem — whose father, Cary Clem, and brother, Lee Clem, have their names inscribed on the memorial — said he and the Hope area community appreciate Post 229’s dedication to honoring veterans.
“To me it means these people who answered the call of duty so many years ago still answer the call of duty. Their duty never ends,” he said.
Clem, 62, grew up in Hope but has lived in Greenwood for more than 30 years. However, he attends the ceremony at the Moravian Cemetery every Memorial Day and has done so most of the time he’s lived away from his hometown.
“It’s definitely a priority for me on Memorial Day. It’s a time for the community to honor those who served to protect life,” he said. “These people had a great influence on me as a young man growing up in Hope.”
Clem plans to attend again this year, with his wife, Kathy, and sisters Mary Ann Davidson and Cathy Pittman.
Lola Hoover, 86, also plans to attend the ceremony at Hope Moravian Cemetery. The Hope resident, who lives across the street from Post 229, will go with her daughters, Susan Thompson and Sheryl Alyea.
The ceremony has personal meaning for them.
Hoover’s husband, the late Thomas Hoover, the girls’ father, was an Army Air Forces veteran who served in World War II as a bomber pilot. He also was active with Post 229 and participated in the Memorial Day ceremonies, often with the rifle squad, Hoover said.
Her reason for attending the ceremony year after year is simple.
“It’s about the veterans, and it’s very important to remember,” she said.

Caption: Hope Legion member A.C. Reeves places flags on crosses at the Veterans' Memorial in the Hope Moravian Church cemetery Thursday, May 14, 2015, in preparation for the upcoming Memorial Day service. (photo courtesy of Andrew Laker)

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