One of our oldest veterans remembers the meaning of Memorial Day

05/25/2014 7:12 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Here’s a Memorial Day message from one of the oldest veterans in the Kansas City area, if not the oldest.

Sam Montague can no longer communicate easily, given his advanced age. At days shy of 102, the Overland Park resident is among the few living pre-World War II veterans. He was in ROTC in college before the war was declared.

I profiled Montague in 2013 because of his imprint on Kansas City. He’s a bit of a Forrest Gump — working on bond and political campaigns that linked him to the building of the municipal airport, the precursor to Truman Medical Center, the beginnings of the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, the rededication of Liberty Memorial with Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, and the passage of the public accommodations ordinance that desegregated the city’s restaurants and hotels.

Lisa Montague said her father would be dismayed at the growing scandal around the Department of Veterans Affairs. Much of his life was dedicated to patriotism, especially honoring veterans. The allegation is that veterans have died because of backlogs in care and falsified paperwork. Lisa navigates the VA system for her father, a job unto itself.

A manuscript her father wrote of his life (penned when he was nearing 90) opens with his feelings about Memorial Day, as a veteran and because the original holiday is his birthdate, May 30. It’s a great reminder of what should be important amid the picnics and pool openings as the holiday marks summer’s arrival. In Montague’s early years, the holiday was called Decoration Day.

“At that time it was customary for all offices, schools, stores, banks and businesses to close so folks could attend church and later take flowers and flags out to the cemeteries to pay their respects to deceased war veterans and other lost loved ones.”

In the late 1960s, Congress changed it to Memorial Day and shifted the holiday to make for a three-day weekend.

“In addition to being able to remember those who made the supreme sacrifice to preserve our freedoms, and other dearly departed, people now are encouraged by full page newspaper ads, and radio and TV promotions to head out to the malls for the Big Memorial Day Sales. The ‘Bye, bye’ originally associated with Decoration Day and the dearly departed has become ‘Buy, buy.’”

Well said. Happy birthday, Mr. Montague.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @msanchezcolumn.

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