MEREDITH — Gold Star father Mark Decoteau told a crow gathered for a Memorial Day service at the POW-MIA monument here Monday that ''as a nation we seem to have lost our way when it comes to Memorial Day.''
Decoteau, a 1983 West Point graduate whose son, Army Pfc. Marc Paul Decoteau, was killed in action in Afghanistan on Jan. 29, 2010, said Memorial Day is not a holiday at all yet has been turned into a national holiday style event marked by barbecues and shopping rather than a day to honor those who gave their lives in service to the nation ever since Congress changed the date from May 30 to the fourth Monday in May in 1971, creating a three-day weekend.
He said that the original Memorial Day dates back to after the Civil War and was known as Decoration Day for years because that was when the graves of those who had died during the Civil War were decorated.
He said that during his military career he and his fellow soldiers attended many services where they honored those who gave their lives and that those ceremonies served as stark reminders of the meaning of war. For him they became even more meaningful during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, particularly after the death in 2005 of a friend and fellow West Point graduate.
But nothing prepared him for the cold night in January of 2010 when he received word that his 19-year-old son, Marc Paul, who had joined the U.S. Army right out of Plymouth High School in 2008, had been killed while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan.
''After that, Memorial Day took on a significance I could not fathom before'' said Decoteau. He said that since the American Revolution some 1,330,000 Americans have dies serving their country and urged those in the audience to look, listen, and learn about American military history and its significance.
''Take time to know them (our veterans) and the price we have paid for freedom,'' said Decoteau. He is the town manager of Waterville Valley and was at the ceremony with his wife, Nancy, who was presented with flowers for her status as a Gold Star mother, and is the town manager in Warren. Their son, Andrew, is a sophomore at West Point.
Also honored as a Gold Star mother at the ceremony was Lenda Cournoyer, of Gilmanton, whose son Nicholas, 25, a Laconia High School graduate, was killed in Iraq in 2006. Natalie Bowles, his sister, was also honored at the ceremony as a Gold Star sister and placed a wreath at the POW-MIA monument during the ceremony.
The POW-MIA service followed upon the heels of a ceremony held in front of the Meredith Library earlier in the morning which was presided over by Griggs-Wyatt American Legion Commander Bob Kennelly and at which State Senator Jeane Forrester spoke.
Veteran Elliott Finn and members of the audience listen attentively to a MemorIal Day speech at the POW-MIA Monument at Hesky Park in Meredith delivered by Mark Decoteau of Waterville Valley, whose son Marc Paul Decoteau was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. (Roger Amsden/for the Laconia Daily Sun)