An audience that nearly filled Rockford Methodist Church Saturday afternoon was treated to a musical trip through time during a program held in honor of Memorial Day.
The 30th-annual holiday observance, sponsored at the 102-year-old church by the Rockford Preservation Society Inc., featured music from every war in U.S. history as part of a patriotic tribute to America’s deceased military personnel.
Along with songs ranging from “The Girl I Left Behind,” popularized during the Revolution, to “This Land is Your Land,” which became associated with the Vietnam War, the audience listened to names of deceased veterans from each war which were read aloud.
Included were 70 hailing from the Rockford-Stony Knoll communities who served in the various U.S. conflicts.
Afterward, the program moved to the nearby Rockford Baptist Church cemetery, where participants placed flags on veterans’ graves after a gun salute in honor of all deceased military members.
But the music took center stage at the church, which echoed with the sounds of about 20 songs in a program led by Dr. Gena Poovey, a music professor at Limestone College and a former artist-in-residence at Surry Community College.
Poovey provided accompaniment on the piano as she and other vocalists performed war-era songs. And the large audience with about seven military veterans in its midst joined in on selections including “America the Beautiful,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Dixie,” “The Marine’s Hymn” and “This Land is Your Land.”
Acoustic guitarist/vocalist Gene Anderson performed about six solos, including a trademark “hippie” song from the Vietnam period, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
Anderson’s renditions ranged from the humorous “Bless ‘Em All” — a song from World War II with lyrics highlighting that conflict’s inclusiveness, such as “bless ‘em all, bless ‘em all, the long and the short and the tall” — to the sad.
The latter was exemplified by “Missing in Action,” about a Korean War soldier who gets captured by the enemy and escapes, only to return home to find his wife has remarried because she mistakenly thinks he is dead.
Others who were part of the musical tribute included Noah Lindemann, Kelsey Stanley and Adam Doss.
As pointed out by Poovey, Saturday’s program highlighted the fact that the emotions and human drama linked to war have spawned many songs and poems which have become ingrained in the nation’s culture.
She also offered historical tidbits at various points of the program, including rules for how “The Star-Spangled Banner” is meant to be performed. Contrary to what one might hear at a modern sporting event, the national anthem — which emerged during the War of 1812 — is not supposed to include fancy variations and changes in notes.
Those are considered improper by musical purists because they diminish the spirit and purpose of the song, Poovey related.
The audience additionally learned about another song on the program, “There’ll be a Hot Time,” which emerged during the Spanish-American War. It became so popular among Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders serving in Cuba that their Spanish adversaries thought IT was America’s national anthem.
The music professor further pointed out that a Civil War-era song called “Lorena,” also performed Saturday, was banned from camps because it was melancholy and made troops think about the homes they left behind, rather than “duty and victory.”
Saturday’s tribute seemed to be a hit among the more than 60 people who filled the church.
“It was beautiful music,” Gaye Martin of White Plains said afterward, especially praising Poovey’s work on the piano.
“Wonderful” topped off the review offered by Lori Hawks of Dobson, who said she enjoyed the entire playlist.
“I don’t know that it could have been done any better,” Hawks added of the program.
Remarks at cemetery
After moving to the cemetery, audience members who had listened to the music also were reminded about the reason for Memorial Day, which originated in the years immediately after the Civil War.
Greg Cheek of the 28th North Carolina Civil War re-enactment unit from Yadkin County said it was there not only to honor soldiers in the War Between the States, but all deceased veterans, with its musket salute.
Cheek also outlined the human misery resulting from major wars by listing the number of U.S. service members who died in each.
This included about 750,000 in the Civil War (according to updated records); 117,000 in World War I; 405,000 in World War II; 37,000 in Korea; and 58,000 from the Vietnam War.
Cheek lamented the fact that too many Americans view Memorial Day as a time for beach trips or other pursuits.
“For all the festivities that go on with Memorial Day, it’s good to see people come out for this,” he said of the activities at the church and graveyard.
“There’s a lot of history out here in this cemetery,” Cheek said of those buried at Rockford Baptist who served in different wars and the legions of others interred elsewhere.
“This is why we honor Memorial Day — because of them.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.