Harry Sy Joe, 100, who came to this country at age 10 and volunteered for service in the Army Air Corps during World War II, placed the memorial wreath at the Veterans' Monument in White Hall Monday during the annual Memorial Day ceremony.

Harry Sy Joe, 100, who came to this country at age 10 and volunteered for service in the Army Air Corps during World War II, placed the memorial wreath at the Veterans’ Monument in White Hall Monday during the annual Memorial Day ceremony.

A native of China, Sy Joe was assisted by retired Army and Air Force veteran Bill Covey and members of the White Hall Junior ROTC, who posted the colors at the start of the ceremony at the White Hall Museum.

Sy Joe, who served as a flight mechanic and later as a cook during his time in the Air Corps, a forerunner of the U.S. Air Force, saluted the American flag from his wheelchair. Mayor Noel Foster said as a child he remembers it was a “special treat” when his parents took the family to eat at Sy Joe’s Pagoda restaurant.

The crowd at Monday’s ceremony was the largest in several years, said Mary Lou Mauldin, museum director. The ceremony was capped by flyovers conducted by the Razorback Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association based at Pine Bluff’s Grider Field.

Col. Franz Amann, commander of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, told the veterans and their family members that Memorial Day is a uniquely American observance.

The armies of the North and South sustained 600,000 dead during the Civil War and the simple act of honoring service and decorating soldiers’ graves with the flowers of May gave birth to Memorial Day, he explained.

Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day on May 13, 1868, “because it was not the anniversary of a battle.”

Barbecues, parades and concerts light up our nation with pride, Amann explained. While Americans decorate their houses, yards and vehicles for birthdays, homecomings and holidays, the “decorate” has a more noble origin in our country.

At the end of the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army was short of supplies, rations and money. By August 1781, Congress couldn’t afford to pay the army’s officers, let alone those honored with battlefield commissions, Amann noted.

Washington created two awards for enlisted men and non-commissioned officers: The Badge of Distinction, equivalent to today’s service stripe, and the Badge of Military Merit, “Our oldest decoration for individual acts of conspicuous gallantry was a simple purple cloth heart embroidered with the word ‘Merit’,” Amann said.

On Washington’s 200th in 1932, the War Department revived the Purple Heart, he reminded the veterans present for the ceremony. The latter is still inscribed with the word “merit,” but is now awarded to those wounded and killed in action.

“Decorating military service is common throughout the world and honoring sacrifice is not unique to America,” Amann said. “However, Memorial Day is a holiday that is uniquely American.”

The 106th Army Band from Camp Robinson performed a musical tribute to the veterans and the fallen. Dr. Richard A. Bailey Jr., a member of the faculty of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, played “Taps,” the 24 note bugle call that is unique with the American military, since the call is sounded at funerals, wreath-laying and memorial services.

As Billy Coble, master of ceremonies, read the names of those killed and missing in action, the memorial bell was sounded by Mauldin with each name.

Active and retired military personnel were recognized during the program with a musical tribute.