Honoring those who gave all

Southgate Memorial Day commemoration goes virtual

Shannon Rossi

So many things have changed this year. It has become vital to adapt to life in the time of a pandemic.

No matter how different things become, some events still go on.

For 59 years, there has been a Memorial Day service in Southgate. It has taken different forms, but in recent years, the service, a joint event put on by American Legion Post No. 478 and Southgate Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 9283, has been held at the Veteran’s Memorial in front of the library on Dix-Toledo Road.

Jim Austin of Southgate is the Post Commander of the American Legion Post No. 478.

“My job is basically to make sure that whatever my members want gets done,” said Austin. “I’m there to facilitate things and help get people involved.”

Austin served in the United States Navy from December 1980 to December 1985, stationed on the USS Merrimack AO-179, a fleet oiler.

“When I finished high school, I decided that I wasn’t really college material,” he said. “My father was in the Navy. My uncle was my recruiter. I was his first recruit. It seemed like everything led me to the Navy.”

Austin was part of the USS Independence battle group that responded to the 1983 attack on barracks housing American and French service members in Beirut, Lebanon.

Following his military service, Austin came back to Southgate and has worked as a millwright for DTE.

Each year, Austin and other Downriver veterans and their families, pay tribute on Memorial Day to those who paid the ultimate price in service to their country.

“Memorial Day is not about mattress sales or getting the best prices on tires,” he said. “It’s about remembering those who died defending our country.”

The services are not meant to be political at all.

“The focus is meant to be on fallen service members, not politics,” Austin said.

“We try to invite all different veteran groups, not just those in Southgate. Any family members are more than welcome to come and lay a wreath,” he said.

Austin has been involved with Memorial Day ceremonies in Southgate for about 12-15 years. The support of the city of Southgate has been important in keeping this event running each year.

“As Mayor of the City of Southgate, I am proud of our long history of honoring our Nation’s heroes and, in particular, the brave young men and women from Southgate and the entire downriver region who gave their lives defending our liberty and freedom,” said Mayor Joseph Kuspa.

Kuspa is a Life Member of VFW Auxiliary Post No. 9283. His brother John served 26 years of active duty in the Army.

Some years, the event has drawn close to 100 people.

This year a gathering of more than a few people was not possible.

“It’s important to us to make this happen, even if it’s a little inconvenient or strange to do this in front of no crowd,” Austin said.

“Those who were in the jungles of Vietnam, the trenches of World War I, or even all the way back to freezing on the Delaware with George Washington, experienced more than a little inconvenience.”

Only the minimum number of American Legion and VFW members who were needed to make the event happen were there in front of the Southgate Veterans Memorial Library on May 16 for filming.

“We practiced social distancing. I wore my mask, as did some of the others,” he said.

Jim Youngheim, chaplain for  American Legion Post 478, gave the opening prayer.

Kuspa also spoke at the recorded service.

“There usually would have been a person there to sing the National Anthem and representatives laying wreaths. But this year a Legion member laid wreaths as names were read aloud.”

Marshall Prange, Commander of Military of the Purple Heart Chapter No. 127, spoke as the flag was folded. It was then ceremonially inspected by members of the Downriver Honor Guard.

Eddie Brown, Department of Michigan American Legion Chaplain, gave the closing prayer.

Generally, many officials from the City of Southgate also have attended including police and fire chiefs, Judge Kandrevas and city council members.

“For more than a decade, Commander Jim Austin has volunteered to organize this important community event.  Jim does a wonderful job emceeing this ceremony each year. But, more importantly, he is extremely devoted to promoting the true meaning of this solemn national holiday,” Kuspa said.

“We wish we didn’t have to do memorial services. People in the military are not warmongers. If it were our choice, there would be no wars,” he said. “There is no unimportant job in the military, no unimportant person. If we don’t remember those that gave their lives for our country and freedoms, then what was the point?”

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