Saluting the fallen: Bellefonte Memorial Day ceremony honors wartime service, sacrifice

David Dimmick left no doubt where he places Memorial Day.

“In my mind, Memorial Day is just as important as any secular holiday we celebrate in the United States, perhaps even more so than Independence Day,” said Dimmick, an Air Force and Pennsylvania Air National Guard veteran who spoke Monday at the Memorial Day service in front of the Centre County Courthouse.

“I say that because, in my mind, the men and women who fought and died to establish our country, and those who have fought and died since then to keep its freedoms, loom just as large as those men who gathered in Philadelphia and wrote a declaration of independence and a constitution.”

Dimmick, a Bellefonte native who co-founded the FaithCentre charity, delivered the ceremony’s keynote address, musing on the nature of war while quoting Gen. George Patton, Mark Twain, Gen. Robert E. Lee and Socrates, among other famous figures.

“Isn’t it true that what we say about the sacrifice that these men and women gave is lacking?” Dimmick said. “So often, the words that come to mind just don’t do it.

“And we worry about that because what we say never seems to be enough. But I’m going to try to do that today.”

His remarks anchored the traditional ceremony organized by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1600, American Legion Post 33 and the Nittany Leathernecks Detachment.

Dimmick said that, throughout history, combat and wartime service have been “glorified” and “exalted,” celebrated “in word and song.”

“Even today, we toss around very glibly words such as ‘honor,’ ‘bravery,’ ‘nobility’ and ‘self-sacrifice,’ often without thinking about what they mean and how individuals earn those words,” he said.

Patton, Dimmick said, called war “the supreme test of man in which he rises to heights never approached by any other activity.”

On the other hand, in Mark Twain’s short story “The War Prayer,” an angry, ragged combat veteran stands before a congregation after it prays for God’s help in defeating the enemy.

“Oh Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells,” the veteran begins his blunt, pointed invocation. “Help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead.”

“In short, I hope that we will all agree that war is sometimes necessary. Sometimes, it’s moral,” Dimmick said. “But war is never good.”

Nobody knows better than warriors, Dimmick said. Lee, he said, described war as “a cruel thing to separate and destroy families and friends and mar the purest joy of happiness that God has granted us in this world.”

“Those of you who have worn the uniform and who have experienced battle, and perhaps those of you who have not, understand the horror and uncertainty,” Dimmick said, “and would certainly agree with (the poet) Eve Merriam when she says, ‘I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?” ’ ”

But those immersed in war can’t indulge in philosophizing when survival is at stake, Dimmick said.

“Many of you standing here today, you did it,” he said. “You did war, even up close and personal. You and many others, both living and dead, fully understanding the horror of conflict and after sorting through all the rights and wrongs, you answered the call.”

Stewart Hockenberry, an Army veteran from Bellefonte, remembered his grandfathers, Reuben Adams and John Hockenberry, who fought in the Army during World War II.

When two Bellefonte Area High School trumpeters played dueling taps after the traditional rifle salute, Stewart Hockenberry saluted. He said he attended with his mother, wife and two young children to honor “the fallen and to support the ones that are still in the service.”

Dimmick noted Memorial Day’s official start in 1868 when, by order of Gen. John A. Logan, flowers decorated Union and Confederate graves alike in Arlington National Cemetery.

“After 146 years, and after all that has happened to you and I, we have chosen to be here today, and that is good,” he said. “We chose to remember and to grieve and to offer our thanksgiving, and that is good. And by being here, we remind ourselves of this horrendous thing which is sometimes glorified and minimalized by the unfamiliar.”

Dimmick asked the audience to imagine a world without war, where “the lion would lie down with the lamb.”

“But, alas, that’s not to be, at least for now,” he said. “And so, my friends, we are forced to agree with Socrates. He said: ‘We make war that we may live in peace.’

“Those that we honor today, the dead and the living, understood exactly what Socrates meant. And they fought to make peace possible.

“For that decision we offer our thanks, praise and our honor.”