Memorial Day Hometown Traditions
By Jasmine Willis
WELLSVILLE— For the past five years it has been a tradition for me to bring flowers to my grandfather’s graveside at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Donald M. Willis served his country in World War Two like so many others of his generation. He was part of the greatest generation. He came home after the war to his sweetheart, Verna Jean Church. He would have seven children with her. He would marry again to Paula Kay and have two other daughters in the 1970s. From that moment on he would spend the rest of his life at his parent’s home on Howard Street.
My grandfather was many things to a lot of people in his lifetime. He was a soldier, hero, son, father, husband, grandpa, carpenter, musician, friend, and brother.
Pvt. Donald M. Willis was just a young teen when he was drafted into the war. He would write letters back and forth to his mother, siblings, and sweetheart. These letters are very precious to all of us now. They tell us a story about a grandpa we only heard about, but never got to know in real life. He existed in a time before we were born. He was a young, charming, handsome soldier. He played his instruments for his fellows. He used the term fellows a lot. He talked a lot about missing home. He was just a young boy in those days.
We often forget that the soldiers of the old wars were young boys. Many of them still teenagers fighting these huge battles and risking their life for our freedom. We often forget that many of them were drafted into the war like my grandpa. We often forget they wrote letters of missing home and their sweethearts.
It is easy for us to think of that in the more recent wars since we see these young boys sent off right out of high school. We are there when they make the choice to go fight for their country. We are there to hear the stories of courage from their parents.
I have covered what seems like a hundred Memorial Day Services over the years. I have seen young boys and girls go off to fight for my freedom. I have seen them stand proud as they do what their grandfathers have done, or their parents have done before them. It is very admirable to watch them in these military towns. Since we are all in this shutdown it has put a sadness in the air for Memorial Day. Many couldn’t have services or parades to honor our fallen this year.
It was important for me to make the journey to my hometown to honor my grandfather like I have always done. Despite the shutdown and all it has taken away from us. I could not let it take this away too.
Afterwards, we went to Fulmer Valley Cemetery and Valley Brook Cemetery to honor other lost loved ones. We honored great grandparents, great aunts, uncles, and great-great grandparents. We saw the Church and Adams Homesteads as they are still standing after all these decades. The Church Homestead is still in the family. The Adams Homestead has been purchased by an Amish Family recently.
All in all, this day was about honor and family. It was about getting back to the roots. On the way back to Dansville we saw the flag up for fallen war hero Jason Dunham in Scio. We saw a Civil War Memorial in Belmont. We noticed that other towns celebrate their hometown heroes too.
I blew a dandelion wish for my grandfather in hopes that he is up in Heaven playing our favorite song “Hey Jude” by the Beatles. My grandfather was a music man most of his life. He played this song for my mother when she was a little girl. It is one of my favorite stories.