'More than hot dogs and marshmallows'

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There are Memorial Day cookouts. And there are Memorial Day sales – mattress, appliances and clothing, among others. But World War II veteran Dr. E. Bruce Heilman wants to make sure Americans know that barbecues and savings aren’t the reason behind Memorial Day.

Heilman – the chancellor of Richmond University in Virginia and a Legion Rider from Maj. Charles A. Ransom American Legion Post 186 in Midlothian, Va. – was the guest speaker at a Legion ceremony May 28 at Arlington National Cemetery. Heilman’s words preceded a wreath-laying ceremony at the Civil War Unknown Monument, where the remains of 2,111 soldiers gathered from the fields of Bull Run and the route to the Rappahannock now rest.

He spoke of the sacrifices of families who have lost loved ones while wearing the nation’s uniform. “All of us on Memorial Day need to understand that’s what it’s all about,” said the 89-year-old Heilman, who has rode on his motorcycle more than 12,000 miles across the country over the past two years to raise awareness for various military causes, including Gold Star families. “If I can leave that message in your mind, then Memorial Day will be more than hot dogs and marshmallows.”

Helping Heilman place the wreath were several Gold Star family members. One of them was Vietnam veteran Dan McLaughlin, a member of ALR Chapter 117 in Butler County, Pa. McLaughlin lost his son, Michael, during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006.

“That touched me really deeply,” McLaughlin said of coming to Arlington National Cemetery. “It draws everything out of you. I’ve had the privilege and the honor of bringing a survivor of the Bataan Death March here and having him buried here. When you see Arlington, and you understand how many young men and women have given their lives … it has to touch your heart.”

Heilman praised the Gold Star families. “They represent the best of those who defend our freedom, the best of those who are willing to stand their ground in the military to preserve that which we all treasure – and again, that is our freedom,” he said. “We Americans are not willing to settle for less.”

More than 100 Legion Riders rode their motorcycles from Post 177 in Fairfax, Va., to Arlington, gathering outside the cemetery and walking behind two bagpipers to the Civil War Unknown Monument. Another two dozen Legion family members traveled by bus to participate in the event.