RIDGE FARM — Stan Richardson isn’t going to let anything, not even a pandemic, keep him from doing what’s important — honoring veterans.
“We’ve been honoring our fallen veterans for years. We think it’s the thing to do,” said Richardson, an Army veteran.
“We feel like we’ve got our hearts in the right place. Without veterans, we wouldn’t have anything.”
For the seventh year, the Ridge Farm Masonic Lodge and Crown Hill Cemetery board will sponsor a ceremony on the traditional Memorial Day date of May 30. Most communities have their services on the last Monday of the month.
This year, the event will start at 11 a.m. Saturday at Crown Hill Cemetery on the south edge of the village. People are being asked to keep their distance from each other; face masks are recommended, but not required.
A cannon will be fired to to start the service, and again after Taps.
Retired Army 1st Sgt. Rick Jenness, a member and past commander of the Chrisman American Legion, will be the speaker. Also featured will be the Rev. James Blue, minister at the Nazarene Church of Olivet, giving the prayer; Lisa Hackler, singing the National Anthem; and Navy veteran Harold Puzey, playing Taps on trumpet (not a recording). The Chrisman American Legion Post 477 will serve as color guard.
A World War II veteran will lay a wreath at the memorial wall.
Several vintage planes and helicopters are expected to fly over, weather permitting. Not many towns of 900 people have a flyover, he said. A pilot told him, “We’re going to rock Ridge Farm.”
A breathtaking sight is a flag display along Illinois Route 1, where about 200 American flags line the route and continue through the cemetery. Also, flags were placed on more than 300 military graves, dating back to the Civil War, at Crown Hill.
The display on Route 1 had been coordinated by Rick Dailey Sr. with the Illinois Patriot Guard until his death in September 2017. After that, Rick Dailey Jr. and other family members have kept up the tradition.
Richardson, a member of the Chrisman American Legion and Ridge Farm Masonic Lodge, noted that observing Memorial Day on the original date hasn’t hurt attendance, with an average of 100-200 people in past years. He’s not sure if the coronavirus pandemic will affect attendance this year.
Also, rain won’t stop the ceremony. At past events, people stood in the pouring rain and didn’t flinch. In the Army, he said, “I didn’t get the day off because it was raining.”
Richardson said people, especially veterans, like the idea of having the ceremony on May 30.
People lose sight of the purpose of Memorial Day and think it’s only for picnics and a day off work. But, Richardson said, “We need one designated holiday to honor our fallen veterans. Without veterans, there wouldn’t be any holidays in this country.”
As a veteran, he said, “You have no idea how good you feel when a young person comes up and shakes your hand.”
Richardson, 79, who served in the Army during the Vietnam War era, grew up in a military family. He and his four brothers served over a total of 50 years, and his wife’s three brothers were in the service.
He plans to continue having a traditional ceremony every year, adding, “As long as I’m alive and we can do it, I’ll be doing it.”
The idea for the local ceremony started when Richardson noticed the empty flagpole at the closed grade school. He wondered how many veterans raised the flag on that pole when they were children.
With the Masonic Lodge’s help, he moved the flagpole to the Soldiers Circle in the cemetery and dedicated it five years ago.
Gen. John Logan, who had ties to Danville, with the Grand Army of the Republic first proclaimed Decoration Day on May 30, 1868 — a date chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle. Also, it’s a time of year when many flowers are in bloom.