Memorial Day service honors locals who gave their lives serving their country

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 21, 2014

 Hundreds of veterans, their loved ones and community leaders gather each year to pay tribute to the men and women who’ve given their lives in service to their country during the Grosse Pointe War Memorial’s annual Memorial Day service, which starts at 10 a.m. May 26.

Hundreds of veterans, their loved ones and community leaders gather each year to pay tribute to the men and women who’ve given their lives in service to their country during the Grosse Pointe War Memorial’s annual Memorial Day service, which starts at 10 a.m. May 26.

File photo by Roy Feldman

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Before people head to parks and picnics on Memorial Day, officials at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial hope they spend at least a little bit of time paying tribute to the men and women for whom the holiday is dedicated.

The War Memorial will be hosting its 65th annual Memorial Day program starting at 10 a.m. May 26 on the lakefront back lawn. The solemn service, which usually takes about an hour, features speakers, patriotic music and a reading of the names of Grosse Pointe veterans who lost their lives while serving their country. Grosse Pointe Farms Mayor James Farquhar is scheduled to introduce the Gold Star Honor Roll, the list of military members who died while in the service.

Participants this year include local veterans and scouting groups, the Selfridge Air National Guard Base’s Honor Guard, Daughters of the American Revolution, a rifle salute by the 1146 Ritual Firing Team of Veterans of Foreign Wars Bruce Post and local leaders and ministers. Musicians who’ll be performing include the Grosse Pointe Theatre Singers, Joe Armijo, Dave Pas, The Forum Shoppers, Harrison Krasner, and Heather Albrecht leading the Pierce Singers. Bagpiper Mary Beth Nicholson again will close the service with “Amazing Grace.”

After an absence last year due to sequestration, organizers expect a flyover to return this year. At press time, a B-25 and C-47 from the Yankee Air Museum were slated to pass over the area during the service.

The event usually draws about 800-1,000 visitors to the War Memorial.

New War Memorial President and CEO Charles Burke is looking forward to taking part in his first Memorial Day service. This year, Memorial Day has expanded at the War Memorial with the addition of the first Our Community Salutes Military Enlistee Recognition Ceremony on May 21, a free public event to honor the more-than 200 high school seniors graduating from schools in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties who’ve decided to enlist in the military after graduation.

“We’re starting to look at Memorial Day as a series of things we’re offering,” Burke said.

This year’s keynote speaker is U.S. Marine Corps Col. Benjamin P. Stinson, of Grosse Pointe Shores, project manager with the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office for the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, which is part of the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren. A recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal — with four gold stars — and the Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal, he and his wife, Toni, are the parents of three, and their two sons currently are Marines.

Interviewed by email from Afghanistan, where he was working at press time, Stinson said he’d be focusing on “the purpose of Memorial Day” in his talk.

“I will touch on a bit of history, Blue and Gold Star families, new recruits and why it is important that we remember, respect and realize their sacrifice,” he said.

Stinson said he and his wife attended the Memorial Day service last year and were moved by the event.

“We were impressed with the devotion of the Grosse Pointe communities,” he said.

Burke, whose father served in the military, said it’s important for the community to reflect on those who gave “the ultimate sacrifice” for their country and its people.

“We sit in this building and see the names of the (fallen service members) every day,” he said of the War Memorial’s bronze plaques, which pay tribute to local veterans lost to various wars and conflicts. “Everything we do (at the War Memorial) is going to revolve around the memory of those names. The freedoms we have as a country — that is the legacy they left. In this fast-paced society, we must always pause to reflect on the sacrifices made by those individuals and their families.”

For the third straight year, visitors will be able to reflect after the service by walking through the Memorial Labyrinth on the back lawn. Lined with star-covered red, white and blue bags, the labyrinth — which resembles an American flag — is a creation of Norma Housey, of Grosse Pointe Park, whose daughter is an officer in the Air Force. At the end of the path through the labyrinth, participants can write an intention or the name of a loved one in the service on a slip of paper and leave it in a helmet. These slips of paper will be burned ceremoniously once the event is over. The Ed Lazar Agency Inc. is sponsoring the labyrinth. Lazar, a GPWM Board member, has a son who’s a combat medic in the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army.

“I hope people understand that men and women have sacrificed their lives to pay for the freedom we have,” Stinson said by email. “Their individual sacrifice affected their whole family for generations. I hope folks don’t take their freedom for granted.”

The Memorial Day service is free and open to the public. The War Memorial is located at 32 Lake Shore. For more information about the Memorial Day program, call (313) 881-7511 or visit In the event of inclement weather, the service likely will be moved inside the War Memorial’s Fries Auditorium.