First Lt. Timothy Ryan, U.S.M.C (NCD)
(reprinted from the Aurora Il Beacon News, May 23, 2003)
Death of local Marine in Iraq adds meaning to annual ceremony
AURORA — Somehow, the graveside ceremony was just a bit more emotional this year for Laura Gates.
In past years, the memories of fallen war veterans from far off and long ago were enough to get her choked up at the Grand Army of the Republic Post 20 Memorial Association’s annual tribute at West Aurora Cemetery.
But the death one week ago of First Lt. Timothy Ryan, a 1991 West Aurora High School graduate, added a personal touch to an event rooted in distant history. Ryan was one of four Marines aboard a helicopter that crashed in a canal south of Baghdad. A fifth Marine drowned trying to save the crew.
Though his death came after the official end of the war in Iraq, his sacrifice puts him in the company of all the other Aurora natives who have died in military action, said Gates, junior vice commander of the memorial association.
“I feel like it was very poignant this year,” she said, surrounded by graves, some of them occupied by Civil War veterans. “How sad … all these years, and we’re still losing our sons.”
One of the biggest headstones was the focal point of Sunday’s service; it belongs to Daniel Wedge, who was the last living Civil War veteran in the area when he died in 1947 at age 106.
It was around his grave that about a dozen Civil War-era characters gathered and shared poems and prayers to remember all fallen war veterans.
The ceremony follows guidelines of the GAR’s ritual book, and includes actors in historical dress and character.
After an introduction by memorial association Post Commander Charles Gates, a crew of Union soldiers from the Chicago Light Artillery raised a flag to half-staff. Laura Gates led the audience of 10 or so in the Pledge of Allegiance, then read a poem called I am Old Glory.
Among the re-enactors was Max Daniels, a professional Abraham Lincoln impersonator, who read the poem The Bivouac of the Dead.
“Your own proud land’s heroic soil must be your fitter grave / She claims for war his richest spoil, the ashes of the brave.”
Participants then placed emblems at Wedge’s grave: ashes of a burned American flag, to represent the union of states; flowers; a branch of laurel to show the high honor; a sprig of evergreen for life everlasting, and a single rose to show respect and love.
Taking the role long held by Richard Haussman of Montgomery, who died in 2001, chaplain Jerome Kowalski offered a prayer for the fallen.
“We believe that because of their sacrifice, their willingness to serve, we have freedom,” he said.
The ceremony ended with three blasts from a 19th-century cannon.