Speaking to more than 200 people at Monday's Memorial Day observance in downtown Decatur, former U.S. Navy lieutenant Cameron Collier, now a lieutenant-commander in the naval reserve, urged greater emphasis on seeking solutions to problems, not just making complaints.
He noted that the United States flag "stands for the very ideals we fight for, not the infighting in Washington, D.C. It is a symbol offering direction, not waywardness. It is a banner of hope, the American ideal."
Collier, a graduate of the naval academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and a Decatur resident, said he entered the institution in 1997 and "found the largest collection of cynics in existence. I had never seen such a group of complainers in my life" and soon, he added, he joined right in.
However, he recalled, a senior officer told him that complaining "just means you still care."
The cynicism that Collier said he witnessed at the naval academy was based on "unmet expectations" because "we were all idealistic" and had entered the military service with "romantic beliefs in truth, honor, loyalty, and selfless dedication. For one reason or another, our aspirations were not fully realized and we were disappointed.
"We expected more from our institution, its administration, our peers, and, at times, even ourselves."
Collier said the commandant of the academy once said that "unmet expectations" can be redefined as "idealism with a broken heart."
That's what is happening in the United States now, he stated: "We see and hear much complaining and much discontent and perhaps rightly so."
The challenge, he noted, is how to properly react when "we expect more from our government, our leaders, our fellow man, and even ourselves. How are we to respond?
"Change our expectations? Certainly not! I submit that the answer is simple: point to the flag and remember. Tell others to do likewise."
Collier, 33, closed by asking "the younger generation to recognize the significance of our nation and its place in the world. Learn the uniqueness of our values. Don't settle for the status quo. Don't accept the shortcomings of others. Strive for the ideal. Let your voice be heard, but make certain your opinions are in the way of solutions, not simply complaints."
He thanked all military veterans for their service and said he "encourages younger generations toward a life of service" because there is "a fundamental belief in life and liberty that drives us to sacrifice. It is a belief worthy of sacrifice: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, where all men are created equal. It is everything good and right about our nation. It is the American ideal."
The observance included three prayers, with Jan Smith, chaplain at American Legion Post 43, asking for all who died in the military services during the nation's wars to have "eternal life" extended to them.
A three-volley gun salute was offered by the Post 43 color guard. The playing of "America, the Beautiful," and the performance of "Taps" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" was done by trumpeter Dave Rice of Post 43.
Wreaths were placed on crosses representing those killed in all the wars in which the U.S. has been involved as well as a cross for the unknown dead.
The program at the Peace Monument on the Adams County Courthouse square followed a brief parade downtown, with a naval memorial service at the Yost Brothers Bridge on Jackson St., plus the first Memorial Day parade by residents of Woodcrest Retirement Community and its nursing center.
The Woodcrest procession, organized by resident Eileen Zeissig, who was a U.S. Army nurse during World War II, wound along the paved path around the pond on front of the site and involved six golf carts, 25 wheelchairs, and dozens of U.S. flags. The celebration started with everyone singing "God Bless America."