SLIDE SHOW: ‘Honor our fallen by teaching the living
May 27, 2014 — By JESSICA WILLIAMS
Deceased soldier’s sister exhorts crowds to patriotism
Click here to view a slide show of scenes from Monday's Memorial day services
Monday’s lesson was clear and it was simple: Be a patriot.
For its teacher, though, the last nine years have been anything but easy.
Standing in front of a crowd of people, first in a park and then in a cemetery, Bluffton native Michele Hiester Marcum detailed how her life was defined nearly a decade ago, she said, when two uniformed men brought news her family didn’t want to hear.
“My brother wasn’t coming home,” she recalled Monday morning, during both the Bluffton and Ossian Memorial Day services.
The moment when her brother and Bluffton High School alumnus Master Sgt. Michael T. Hiester died in March 2005 near Kabul, Afghanistan, her family was “forced into a club no one wants to join”: The Gold Star families.
Monday, Marcum said the community support her family received following her brother’s death was one of her “most vivid and cherished memories.”
Growing up, she remembers watching Memorial Day parades, learning the Pledge of Allegiance, and partaking in flag ceremonies. Growing up, she learned patriotism.
“We knew the mechanics of patriotism, but we never fully understood the depth or weight of the word,” Marcum said.
But, she countered, times are not the same. There are no more Memorial Day parades through Bluffton and the lyrics to the national anthem often go unlearned, as does the difference between Monday’s holiday and Veterans Day, she said.
Monday is a day for memory, Marcum continued.
“It’s a day set aside to pay tribute to those who ensured our freedom by sacrificing everything they had,” she said. “But in the end, it’s just one day. My challenge to you is to re-think what it means to be a true patriot every day.”
Marcum said she finally had an answer to one question she was asked over and over following her brother’s death, a question she couldn’t answer at the time: “What can I do to help?”
Then she detailed more than a dozen tips on how to be a better patriot, from visiting Arlington National Cemetery to encouraging people to vote.
“When parades march through with our colors at the lead, be the first to rise and the last to sit,” she offered, along with, “Make Memorial Day a way of life and not just a day.”
Then she repeated the adage that freedom is not free.
“How can you help our family? This community?” Marcum asked. “Honor our fallen by teaching the living.
“Simply put, be a patriot. Every day.”