During Memorial Day activities, Salinians were called on to show gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy, and for the sacrifices of those who defend those freedoms.
Under beautiful, sunny skies, Monday, thousands were in downtown Saline to watch or march in the annual Memorial Day Parade.
Hundreds followed the procession to Oakwood Cemetery, for thoughtful remarks, songs and prayers.
Kate Melcher, a Saline High School graduate and veteran Army helicopter pilot, was the Grand Marshal of the Saline Memorial Day parade. Melcher has worked in research and speechwriting with the Supresem Court of the United States and has served in senior staff positions in the US Senate.
Now home in Michigan, Melcher is Executive Director of the Fisher House Michigan. A Fisher House is a place where families of military and veterans can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment at a VA medical center. Melcher has been raising funds and awareness to bring the first Fisher House to Michigan. There are 76 in the United States.
Melcher spoke of the need to show gratitude for the sacrifices made by soldiers - and not only those who've perished.
"There's something our country says to the families of those we've lost in battle. On behalf of a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a token of our gratitude," Melcher said. "The interesting thing about that is that the veteran never hears it. When I think about that, I think about how it important it is for us to tell the people love, how much we love them, every day."
Melcher said she's channeled her grief into a personal passion to serve her veteran brothers and sisters in the Fisher House organization. She then talked about the importance of the Fisher House's mission.
"Patients heal better when their family is nearby. They stay better. They don't return to the hospital, when their family is nearby," Melcher said. "We have world class veteran health care centers here in Michigan. I'm proud to let you know our organization is helping to build Fisher Houses (in Ann Arbor and Detroit)."
Melcher said Fisher Houses are built with the help of grateful citizens - like an Ypsilanti man who sends a dollar a month, or Girl Scout troops donating proceeds from bake sales, or high school groups holding can drives. She said church groups and community business partners are doing their part to bring Fisher Houses to Michigan.
The Ann Arbor Fisher House breaks ground June 14, but "Our work is not nearly done," Melcher said.
The goal is to raise $20 million for the Michigan Fisher Houses. So far, they've raised $5.5 million.
"Fisher House is what I'm doing to express my gratitude - to earn the right to have a free life here in the U.S.," Melcher said. "And I wonder, what will you do to let people know how you feel while they're still living."
(To donate to the Fisher House, click here)
In her address, Melcher remembered four fellow Apache pilots. She said the daily training required to do the job right comes with its own risk.
"The dangerous business that we're in, flying Apaches, I've lost just as many friends here, stateside, in training, that I have overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan," Melcher said. "But we do it because of the mission. Because the mission of the AH-64D Apache Longbow is to protect our men and women who are boots on the ground. We do it for overwatch. We do it for close air support."
Melcher said she knows many people are anxious to celebrate Memorial Day with a barbecue or a pool-side party. And, she said, that's natural.
"Memorial Day is not just a day to mourn, as it absolutely is, but it's also a day to celebrate the lives of service, for those who lost their lives fighting for our freedom to have those barbecues and parades and pools."
Melcher also talked about two of her heroes who recently passed away. One was Lt. Col. Charles Kettles, an Ypsilanti native and Vietnam-era Huey pilot for a daring operation credited with saving the lives of 40 soldiers and four crew members of a damaged helicopter.
"That action wasn't recognized until President Obama recognized him with the medal of honor just a few years before his death," Melcher said.
Melcher also recognized Robert W. Fletcher, who was assigned to an all-black unit in the US Army during the Korean War. He was captured by the Chinese Army in 1950 and held as a prisoner of war until 1953.
When he came home, he wasn't made aware of all the benefits made available to soldiers and prisoners of war. Once he learned, he became dedicated to ensuring all veterans knew what they were entitled to.
"We lost him just this last year and his family continues to fight for former prisoners of war, so when they are interned at Arlington, every former POW might receive the highest of honors, regardless of rank," Melcher said. "These men put their lives on the line when they were in conflict and they continued to push for the rights of all of us."
Another Saline graduate, Mayor Brian Marl, used his Memorial Day address to speak about the importance of American leadership in the world. Marl said that after World War I, America retreated from the world stage to avoid foreign entanglements. The result, he said, was the rise of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
"We were at the precipice. But at this defining moment, only a few things brought as back from the brink. Courage, valor, faith in God, and the American soldier," Marl said. "The lessons here are clear and unambiguous, And indifferent or disengaged America emboldens the enemies of freedom. Further, America is at its best when it honors and reveres its fallen heroes, and when we remain committed to the ideals enshrined in our founding documents."
Marl said every American who has served is a hero.
"They served a cause greater than themselves, and they worked to advance the cause of freedom and human dignity," he said.
Marl challenged Americans to honor and care for those who served, and to advance the causes they died for. Marl also called for Americans in these politically polarized times to remember they're on the same team.
"Can we put aside our differences and that there is more that unites us than divides us," Marl said.
Singer and songwriter Zach Radcliff sang "I'll Stand" and drew a hearty round of applause.