Memorial Day Weekend is upon us. With it comes many memories.
On the sports front, there was one unforgettable trip to The Brickyard for the Indianapolis 500.
And two trips with my old pal, Steve Donahue, to Charlotte Motor Speedway. OK, technically it is in Concord, North Carolina — for the Coca Cola World 600.
And thanks to some truly outstanding athletes, it was also that time of year for the annual pilgrimage to Shippensburg University for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association track and field championships. That two-day extravaganza in south-central Pennsylvania was usually good for a good start on your summer tan.
Into my teen years, I'd tune the radio early Sunday afternoon to the live broadcast of Indy 500, which for many years in 1970s into the 1980s was televised on same-day, tape delay. The names Unser, Foyt, McCluskey, Bettenhausen, Ruby, Simon, Rutherford, Andretti, Mears, Johncock still ring a bell today.
Of course, the reason for Memorial Day is to honor the men and women of the United States military who lost their lives in preserving our freedom and liberties.
At the Rolfe family plantation on Clinton Street in Athens Township, Memorial Day got a weekend salute. Like clockwork, my dad — a World War II Army veteran — raised Old Glory (his huge American flag) bright and early that Saturday morning and the Stars & Stripes didn't come down until the evening of Memorial Day Monday.
The weekend was a time for church (sometimes both services at St. John's Lutheran in Sayre), a family reunion and a trip to the Tioga Point Cemetery to decorate graves of family and loved ones passed.
My dad always referred to the holiday as Decoration Day, it's original name.
Our reunion brought my aunts, uncles, cousins, sometimes grand-moms and party-loving neighbors to our porch and specious side yard. My aunt and uncle from Oneida, N.Y. rolled into our yard in their motor home.
There were plenty of vittles — steaks, burgers, chicken, hot dogs and raw and steamed clams — and for those of legal age, a keg of beer on ice, direct from Bud Loomis Distributor. If we were good, sometimes us kiddies got to indulge in a half glass of beer!
A tent was set up for the men to play cards. The women — my mom, aunts and older cousins —gossiped and kept the ponderosa clean and tidy. Sometimes they kept an eagle eye and open ear on the men to ensure they weren't too loud, obnoxious or rowdy.
We youngsters had our own tent, usually strategically pitched near Clinton Street, angled perfectly toward the giant screen at the Valley Drive-In. It was one of the perks of growing up with a drive-in theater almost in your side-yard.
Memorial Day weekend at the Valley Drive-In usually meant Dusk to Dawn Show. The latest movies from Hollywood and beyond, starting just after dusk to about 4 o'clock or so in the morning. One year in late 1960s, the featured flick was "You Only Live Twice," one of my favorite Sean Connery / James Bond 007 movies.
If atmospheric and wind conditions were compatible, we watched through the open door of the tent. This, of course, meant sneaking through one of several holes we had cut at various points in the fence surrounding the drive-in, and turning outside speakers in every row as loud as they'd go - like warp-40 loud!
If audible conditions were not good, we grabbed our sleeping bags, snacks and sodas and slithered through another hole way in the back. Ideally, the back row for freeloading camping was our preferred spot, although sometimes it was tough, especially if there were a lot of romantic, privacy-seeking lovebirds who undoubtedly planned to spend more time necking than viewing the screen!
But enough of my Memorial Day escapades.
Memorial Day is NOT to honor my dad, Cpl. Glenn Philip Rolfe, who fought under Gen. George Patton in the 3rd Army, 317th Infantry in the Battle of the Bulge. My dad made it home, albeit with trench-foot and a tiny shrapnel fragment, but many of his comrades did not. They paid the ultimate sacrifice in serving America in her fight to preserve freedom.
So, just remember this: Veterans Day, observed in November, celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans; Memorial Day, held in May, honors those who died while in military service.
There is a distinct difference.
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