The true meaning of Memorial Day

By Christopher Harper

In many small towns throughout America, Memorial Day is special.

Almost everyone knows someone who served in the military; most know someone who died.

Here in Muncy, Pennsylvania, two memorials stand out.

A few years ago, the town and the state recognized two fallen soldiers by naming bridges after them.

Army Pvt. Walter L. Smith, who served in the Spanish-American War, and U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. William F. Merrill, a Vietnam War veteran, died in service to their country.

The war against Spain was declared in April 1898 after the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor. On May 12, 1898, Smith enlisted at Williamsport and was mustered into service as a private in Co. D, 12th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, According to historical documents found by his family, Smith met his fate while on a supply patrol with a small detachment in the Philippines on July 28, 1901. “[He] bravely and selflessly defended men in his company against an overwhelming attack by some 60 native insurgents. During the battle, Smith’s sergeant, the only other armed man, was shot and killed. Fighting alone, Smith saved the lives of two unarmed soldiers but was overpowered, captured, and taken prisoner,” according to the local newspaper.

While his remains never were recovered, in 2006, family members honored his service by placing a government-issued memorial headstone in the Smith family plot at Muncy Cemetery.

Merrill was with the 1st Marines during Operation Oklahoma Hills, an operation to clear out the enemy from their base camps and infiltration routes southwest of Da Nang, Vietnam.

On Nov. 26, 1969, Merrill and nine fellow Marines came to a ravine. The first to cross hit a wire attached to a booby trap, and he called out for Merrill, who guarded the device as the rest of the Marines went around it. As Merrill and his sergeant were standing at the device, the explosive detonated, killing Merrill and fatally wounding the other man. Merrill’s body was returned home to his family for interment at Boalsburg Cemetery.

“These were two sons of Muncy who went off to do their duties – like many sons of Muncy – but were unfortunately never able to come home.”State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, a former U.S. Air Force member, said at the bridge dedication ceremony.

The service of Smith and Merrill in two distant wars underlines the true meaning of Memorial Day.

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