BRENTWOOD — With the precision of a military drill, the resident-led Memorial Day celebration at The Heritage at Brentwood began the second the clock struck 10 a.m. Monday morning.
Less than 20 minutes later, the large crowd gathered in the shadow of the senior living community’s American flag had been reminded of the holiday’s history, introduced to an outstanding young Marine who lost his life in Vietnam and joined together to sing God Bless America.
While many mark Memorial Day as summer’s official start, retired Navy Capt. Dana McLendon reminded the approximately 75 attendees, many dressed in red, white and blue, that what was first observed as Decoration Day to memorialize those lost in the Civil War over time evolved to include Americans who have died serving in all of the country’s wars and conflicts. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. When it was enacted in 1971, the last Monday in May was established as Memorial Day, a national holiday.
Steve White, who served as a U.S. Marine Corps commander in Vietnam, then “introduced” 2nd Lt. Russell Equi as a reminder of why Memorial Day is commemorated.
Equi had been president of his Connecticut high school, where he won three athletic letters. At Columbia University, he played football and graduated with honors from its pre-med program.
On Jan. 26, 1969, however, Equi lost his life in Vietnam after he volunteered to serve as officer-in-charge of assigned marines and equipment needed to clear an area of landmines. “As they were deploying their heavy charges,” White said, a premature explosion killed Equi and six fellow marines.
“In fulfilling my responsibilities as Lt. Equi’s commanding officer, the company had to inventory his personal effects,” White said. “… In them we found letters from Lt. Equi’s sisters, talking about his two prior Purple Hearts and that Lt. Equi had told his parents that he was stationed in Okinawa and was not in Vietnam so as to keep them from excessive worry.
“As I drafted the Marine Corps’ letter to his parents, I tried to keep all of these things in mind. Lt. Equi had been a good marine and an exceptional young man.” White said.
“He was a credit to our country,” White concluded to silence. Equi is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Also taking part in the ceremony were Bob Stewart, a Marine veteran, who led the crowd in “God Bless America;” resident Carolyn Crigger who led the Pledge of Allegiance, and Bishop Joe Pennell, who gave the benediction.
Pennell, a retired Methodist minister, closed his prayer with the reminder that, “America is the home of the free because of the brave.”
The event ended fittingly with Taps.