In a time-honored tradition, Wichitan Warren Laughlin has been busy this week preparing for Monday — Memorial Day. He's made phone calls and put a gathering of veterans together for the Memorial Day service for his hometown of Geneseo.
At 75, he has attended every Memorial Day ceremony in the Rice County town — except three when he was in the service.
He's participated in almost all of them, sometimes serving as bugler or color guard.
"We don't wear our uniforms anymore," said Laughlin, a retired bank president from Goddard. "All of us veterans wore out of them. We wear coveralls that cover up God's gifts to us."
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This weekend, in Wichita and dozens of towns across Kansas, thousands will pause a moment to pay respect.
Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend is the start of summer, when backyard barbecues and vacations begin in earnest.
But for many Americans, the last Monday in May takes on more somber tones with observances in thousands of cemeteries nationwide, marking graves of fallen military heroes and family members.
Some Kansas historians predict the majority of those attending services will be of the baby boomer generation and older.
The tradition is simply dying out, said Randy Thies, retired public archeologist with the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka.
"It was a big deal about a hundred years ago and then it started drizzling off after World War II," Thies said. "You don't see that many younger people. It's mostly older people."
Memorial Day has roots dating back more than 2,500 years to the ancient Greeks, who decorated the graves of community heroes.
Nationally, the tradition became popular shortly after the Civil War, when both the North and South set aside Memorial Days/Decoration Days of their own.
The last weekend of May was chosen because that's when flowers are typically in bloom.
It is no coincidence that generations of Kansans have observed the day.
"Since Kansas was a major destination after the war for a lot of Civil War veterans in terms of resettlement and homesteading, Memorial Day became important to communities while the old Civil War veterans were still living," said Virgil Dean, historian at the State Historical Society.
The tradition has expanded to encompass anyone who has died, not just veterans, Dean said.
"I remember going with my grandparents to various cemeteries around the eastern part of Kansas on Memorial Day," he said. "I still live close to where most of my relatives are buried. I go because I am interested in genealogy and I like visiting cemeteries."
Likewise, Dave Webb of Protection said he will accompany his parents, now in their 80s, to the Protection Township Cemetery.
"From decades to decade, we have decorated the graves in our small cemetery," Webb said.
Laughlin will go to Geneseo to honor his family's graves. The town has about 250 residents.
"Geneseo is where I grew up," Laughlin said. "My dad rode the Orphan Train out there from Philadelphia and grew up to own a bank."
His grandfather, Warren Hunter, for whom Laughlin was named, was a Rice County commissioner.
And although the service on Monday doesn't start until 11 a.m., Laughlin said, he'll go early — to practice.
The veterans will march from the edge of the cemetery. Laughlin said they'd once marched from town. But as they grew older, the march was shortened.
He'll put flowers on the graves of his parents and grandparents and two uncles.
"It's a big thing on how these small communities prepare for Memorial Day," he said. "In our little cemetery, we have the Avenue of Flags — that, I think, is so beautiful. People come from everywhere. And the American Legion and VFW put up flags on all the veterans' graves. It is a time to remember those who gave so much."