Tradition of Remembrance
The land of the free and the home of the brave—this final phrase from our national anthem so beautifully depicts why the United States is the greatest nation on Earth. America is the land of the free quite simply because it is the home of the brave. For centuries, courageous men and women have set aside—sacrificed—their own wants, needs, and desires and answered a call to defend the life and liberty of all Americans. Many made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives in defense of the freedoms that we so casually enjoy. This month, as we have for decades, Americans will pause to commemorate these brave service members and honor that sacrifice. More than picnics and backyard grilling, more than camping and water sports, Memorial Day is a day to acknowledge that our freedom was bought with a price and remember the ones who paid it.
Originally known as Decoration Day, the first national day of remembrance for military members who died in service was held in 1868 following the Civil War. It was celebrated each year on May 30 for more than a century. In 1971, following an act passed by Congress, Memorial Day became a federal holiday recognized on the last Monday of May. This year, on May 30, cities and towns, businesses and organizations, families and individuals will break from their normal routine to celebrate Memorial Day. Customs and traditions vary from place to place, including parades, special services, flags on veterans’ graves and speeches at war memorials. These events are done to remember the lives that were sacrificially given in what President Lincoln termed “the last full measure of devotion.”
One local business has made it a personal mission to honor the sacrifice of all veterans. Texarkana Funeral Home has been hosting a Memorial Day Service at Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery for thirty years. Under the leadership of the late Tommy Fuqua, Texarkana Funeral Home established the annual Memorial Day service in 1992. Dale Buster, former Manager of Texarkana Funeral Home and self-proclaimed “military brat,” organized the very first Memorial Day service and continued until his retirement in 2017. He secured then local pastor and now former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, as the guest speaker for that event. Mr. Buster fondly recalls personally placing the flags along each side of the drive at Hillcrest that first year. “I wanted to pay honor to all the veterans who made the supreme sacrifice and to those who are currently serving and are away.” He said he got emotional just thinking about it. “It’s not just a holiday for gathering and picnics; people need to take time out of the day to remember and pay tribute. It was truly my honor to be able to do this, and I hope it continues for many, many years.”
Over the past thirty years, there have been many changes in the annual service-many guest speakers with many new traditions-but what has not changed is the Fuqua family and Texarkana Funeral Home’s commitment to veterans. President of Texarkana Funeral Home, Vickers Fuqua, is the third generation to lead his family’s business. Mr. Fuqua carries on the tradition of honoring veterans with the Memorial Day service established by his father three decades ago. He has surrounded himself with a staff who are as committed to this special event as he is and looks for ways to increase their support of veterans.
[Memorial Day] is not just a holiday for gathering and picnics; people need to take time out of the day to remember and pay tribute.” —Dale Buster
A lot of time and energy goes into planning a service like this. It involves communicating with local veterans who assist with the event, finding a guest speaker and ensuring all graves are freshly mowed for Memorial Day weekend. It would not be possible without the help and input of everyone involved. In addition to the breathtaking avenue of flags placed along the drive of the cemetery, over 1,000 flags mark each veteran’s grave at Hillcrest Cemetery. It is a tremendous undertaking, but it is something the employees enjoy doing with their families.
Former Manager of Texarkana Funeral Home—Arkansas, Eddie Hawkins, reflected on over 25 years of working the Memorial Day Service. “It is such an honor to recognize all of our veterans, those gone before us and those that are still with us. Our veterans have given so much to allow us the freedoms we enjoy today.” Heather Kiser, Manager of Chapelwood Funeral Home, has been helping with the Memorial Day service for eight years. She expressed the importance of keeping this tradition alive and making sure the younger generation understands and remembers. Mrs. Kiser said working on the Memorial Day Service is “her favorite thing to do.”
Mr. Fuqua also discussed the importance of involving the local veterans in planning the service. He explained, “Each year, we look for ways to make it better.” Specific symbolic gestures that honor military traditions need to be executed correctly, and veterans know how it should be done. Mr. Fuqua said, “It’s for the veterans, and we want to make sure we honor them. We tell them, if there is something we need to do differently, we want to know.” Local veteran Charles Jordan weighed in on the Memorial Day service, stressing that these events are important for helping the community remember who veterans are. “If the community takes time to acknowledge the sacrifices of veterans, then it is more likely they will begin to remember not only who veterans are abroad, but who they are here—individuals with jobs and families.” He also spoke of the involvement of Texarkana Funeral Home in the service at Hillcrest, explaining that this service is an especially heartfelt and even somber occasion. When a spouse or parent is lost in service to their country, it becomes necessary for the community to “step in and fill the gap.” This is how we say to them, “you gave what you loved most to the nation, and we are grateful. We are telling them we recognize your sacrifice.”
Texarkana Funeral Home actively looks for ways to support and honor veterans. They do this by providing flags to the local veterans to place at Chapelwood Cemetery and Memorial Gardens each year. Additionally, in 2018, Mr. Fuqua decided to serve veterans and their families by providing free burials for veterans at any of the three cemeteries owned by Texarkana Funeral Home: Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery, Memorial Gardens in Texarkana and Memory Gardens in Hope. Veterans have always had the benefit of being buried in a national cemetery for free. However, the closest ones are in Dallas or Little Rock, and the transportation to those cemeteries is very costly. Mr. Fuqua stated, “We are not a national cemetery, but we can honor the veterans.”
This year’s Memorial Day service will be held on May 30 at 2:00 pm at Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery, 5101 West 7th Street, Texarkana, Texas. On behalf of Vickers Fuqua and the staff of Texarkana Funeral Home, all are invited. “Anyone looking for a way to honor veterans for their service to our country and for the freedom they have granted us should attend.”