Utah's Memorial Day: remembrance, partisan politics
Woods Cross • Memorial Day celebrations around Utah were filled with folks carrying flags, patriotic speeches, little kids impossibly excited by the presence of so many fire trucks and at least in Woods Cross a bit of partisan politics from Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and the city's mayor.
Meanwhile, the ceremony at Fort Douglas Cemetery was all about the honored dead.
"We must never lose focus of what Memorial Day truly means," said Brig. Gen. Dallen Atack of the Utah National Guard. "We know that observances like this are happening all across this wonderful nation. In my opinion, there can never be too many of them.
"It is truly a day to remember the more than 1 million American service members who have died in wars that our nation has been involved with."
With veterans looking on, an honor guard laid a wreath at the cemetery where the first soldier was laid to rest in 1863. An honor guard fired a salute and "Taps" was played at what Atack called "sacred ground," where U.S. veterans as well as German, Italian and Japanese prisoners of war are buried.
In Woods Cross, amidst the babies bouncing on their parents' and grandparents' knees, patriotic songs and the Pledge of Allegiance led by a Gold Star mother, Mayor Rick Earnshaw lauded Hatch for continuing "to lead the fight to repeal the unconstitutional individual mandate and other provisions in the $2.6 trillion health law called Obamacare."
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's mandate in June 2012.
Hatch, speaking without notes, assailed the nation's courts in an 18-minute address to about 300 people outside Woods Cross City Hall. He spoke of his older brother Jesse, killed in World War II, and thanked members of the military for their service.
He also praised the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which went into effect in 1993, adding, "We're in danger of losing that today because of some of these liberal courts and some of these liberal judges."
He continued, "Right now there are cases before the Supreme Court that are going to test the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
"I don't care which church you belong to or whether you don't belong to a church. Religious freedom is what keeps us free almost more than anything else," he said to applause from the crowd.
Circling back to Obamacare, Hatch pointed to the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores case currently before the Supreme Court, in which the owners of the craft stores contend they should not be required to cover contraceptives for their employees.
Hatch clearly sides with Hobby Lobby, telling the crowd, "I hope the Supreme Court doesn't screw that up is all I can say ... Because if they foul up the First Amendment again, we are going to have a constitutional amendment. And I believe I can put one on that everybody in this country, except the nuts, will support.
"I shouldn't talk like that, but I've reached an age that I can say whatever I want. Especially because it's true."
Hatch also took the opportunity to urge voters to cast their ballots for Republicans in 2014 and 2016.
"So many have died that you and I can freely vote and assert our feelings about what to do about our country," he said.
To the Gold Star mom who led the Pledge, the meaning of Memorial Day is, perhaps, a bit more simple.
"To me, it means remembering our fallen," said Geri Stephenson. "Especially our son, Dion, who we miss terribly.
Dion Stephenson, a U.S. Marine, was killed in Desert Storm in January 1991.
"It just seems like yesterday, but it's been 23 years," Geri Stephenson said. "I think other moms would say the same thing. People have said to me there's no greater pain than the loss of a child, and they are certainly correct."
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