It didn't start out as "Memorial Day" but rather "Decoration Day," and is set aside to honor men and women who died while in military service. Across the country observances include visits to cemeteries and memorials, flags flown at half mast, and of course, parades. Miss Bob and I love parades!
The local papers reported that in 2008, our town of Waynesville, NC, would have a Memorial Day Parade for the first time in several years. State Senator Joe Sam Queen along with local veterans groups had been instrumental in making it happen. The parade would feature the U.S. Marine Band stationed nearby.
James Hyatt decided not to let another parade go by without him.
In addition to the band, floats carried veterans from several wars, and marching units featured re-enactment groups, ROTC organizations, as well as active-duty military units from several branches of the armed forces. The end of the parade was approaching, so Hyatt gathered his portable oxygen tank and got to his feet. He stepped off the curb and began his march down Main Street behind the last unit. Hyatt’s spontaneous participation was a fresh and unexpected surprise. Everyone thought the parade was over. The crowd lining the parade route experienced a contagious emotional reaction that began with smiles, waves, and cheers. For many observers, Hyatt personified their patriotism, loyalty, and resolve. A young boy joined him and waved a flag. Many veterans and supporters stepped out into the street and shook his hand; many saluted. When he reached the end of the parade route, there was scarcely a dry eye on Main Street.
A few days after the parade, I had the opportunity to meet him and his wife in their home for a brief interview. Hyatt served in the U.S. Army Signal Corp and landed in Normandy a week or so after the initial June 6 invasion. His group was responsible for land based communications, particularly by telephone. He was in Patton’s Third Army (as was my father) and went with them all the way across Europe. We had a lively conversation and he told me stories about the landing and how he had known a man who later became an assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Last week I had the chance to speak to Senator Queen about his long-time family friend. "Mr. Jim was a great man — a great mountain man. He was a great square dancer and caller. Our families go way back. He was a dear friend. He was a loyal patriot and loved his country."
Mr. Hyatt’s decision to join this parade was timely. He passed away on July 19, 2008 leaving us this timeless image of dignity, courage, and determination. I'm reminded of the last lines of narrated dialog from the movie, Patton. As the conqueror returned home in a tumultuous parade, a slave standing in his triumphant chariot with him holds a golden crown and whispers a warning, "All glory is fleeting."