On Memorial Day, the Brotherhood of Heroes Resource Center and Museum in Cape Coral is inviting people to remember the men and women who died in service of the U.S. armed forces.
Memorial Day is known as the unofficial start of summer, which means a lot of people are at the beach, in their backyards, barbequing or taking advantage of retail sales. To the families who lost loved ones in the military, however, the day will always mean sacrifice.
So many Americans have gone “over there” to fight, and so many never made it home. That is why Memorial Day matters so much to U.S. Navy veteran Mick Sheldrake.
Sheldrake called Memorial Day a “celebration of the brave men and women who served our country, who gave that last full measure and didn’t return.”
It is a pain and pride that Gold Star families live with every day.
“For them, if you really think about this day, this is one of the hardest days of the year,” Sheldrake said.
Sheldrake served in the Navy for 20 years. He had an idea for how the community can honor the fallen.
“Take that couple moments when you’re with all your friends and your family to remember what this really is about,” Sheldrake said. “It’s not a commercial holiday, it’s not a reason to go buy a car. It’s about those who aren’t with us anymore. That’s really what needs to be remembered, and we need to make sure we pass that down from generation to generation.”
One way we can do that is by reflecting on our history. At the Brotherhood of Heroes Resource Center and Museum in Cape Coral, there were reminders everywhere, such as the Missing Man Table, which is covered in symbols for fallen soldiers.
“This table represents those who didn’t come back,” Sheldrake said. “The red rose, that is the pure love of one’s country to go off and represent that country. The salt on the plate represents the dried tears from the family who realizes you’ll never come back, or the glass that’s turned upside down that means they can never partake and drink with you again. The lemon represents the bitterness and loneliness of them not being with you. Even the white tablecloth has representation as the purity of heart for them to want to go out to serve on behalf of not just themselves and their family, but the entire country. Normally, the candles are lit as part of this, to know that the flame of the enduring love of your country is there also. That’s what this table represents.”
The first national observance of Memorial Day occurred on May 30, 1868. It was then known as Decoration Day, proclaimed to honor the Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. As Americans fought and died in more wars, the holiday came to honor all Americans who died in uniform.
The museum, accordingly, hosts a large representation of the Burnside Bridge.
“During the Battle of Sharpsburg, or what’s considered the Battle of Antietam, there were Union soldiers on the far side, there were Confederate soldiers on the low, on the near side, and that river ran red with their blood,” Sheldrake said. “They fought back and forth across this bridge… Sept. 17, 1862, in our American history, is still the bloodiest day. It is… more Americans killed or wounded in action than any day in our history, still, to this day.”
In 1971, Congress made Memorial Day a federal holiday, to fall on the last Monday in May.
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died,” said Gen. George Patton. “Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”
The Brotherhood of Heroes Museum will welcome visitors starting at 11 a.m. The Memorial Day event is free, as is walking through the museum but donations are appreciated.