Memorial Day--Local Marine’s mom putting the ‘memorial’ back in Memorial Day

Date Published: 
May 27, 2011

This Memorial Day marks the 40th anniversary of the official three-day holiday weekend. It symbolizes the start of summer, the date after which ladies with decorum can choose to wear white, and the time for the Indy 500 and the Coca Cola 600, backyard barbeques, shop sales, ads, deals and coupons (especially, it seems, for mattresses) and annual community meetings. In our area, businesspeople hope for a sunny Memorial Day weekend, as it bodes well for a successful summer season.

Coastal Point •  Submitted: Chad CliftonCoastal Point • Submitted
Chad Clifton

But aren’t we missing something?

Terri Clifton believes so. On May 2, she wrote on her Facebook page: “May is the month I become the ‘crazy’ lady trying to restore the meaning of Memorial Day. I need lots of help.”

Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday was established in 1868 to commemorate the dead from the Civil War. Over the years, it came to serve as a day to remember all U.S. servicemen and -women killed or missing in action in all wars. Indeed, for many families, the day became one to set aside time to go to family gravesites and quietly reflect and give thanks. Many wore a red poppy as a symbol of those who died on the fields of Flanders in World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars.

It is ironic that converting a day of personal remembrance into a long weekend appears to have led to the inadvertent result of mass indifference.

Clifton’s mission began six years ago after her son, Lance Cpl. Chad Clifton, was killed in Iraq at age 19.

Chad Clifton grew up in farm country north of Milton with his parents, Richard and Terri Clifton, and his younger brother, Ryan. He attended Cape Henlopen High School, and it was there, on Sept. 11, 2001, when he made up his mind to serve his country by becoming a Marine.

Chad’s passion for writing had emerged in high school, so it was no surprise his part-time job was at Booksandcoffee in Dewey Beach. After work, he loved to hang around the Rusty Rudder and listen to the bands. His favorite song was the Vietnam-era “Paint It Black” by the Rolling Stones.

“Paint It Black” was played at his wake by the band formerly known then Factor and now called Saints of Chaos. Many of the band members also graduated from Cape Henlopen, and singing and dancing and crying along with the band were hundreds of Chad’s friends. Terri Clifton didn’t know how to respond until a friend said, “Do what Chad would want you to do…” And she did – she danced.

“We wondered what we would do on Memorial Day for Chad,” Clifton said. “There were a few services to commemorate the day, mostly organized by older veterans, but there didn’t seem to be anything geared to Chad’s generation of soldier. Chad loved music, so a concert seemed the best option.”

The first year, the concert was held in a side room at a restaurant, with close friends and family. There were just two bands, Blind Willie and Lisa Says No, in which Rich Clifton – Chad’s dad – played. Proceeds from the event went to help a Crisfield, Md., mother with living expenses so she could stay near Walter Reed Army Medical Center, after her son was seriously wounded in Iraq.

Since then, the concert has been held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend (May 29, this year) at the American Legion Post 28 Pavilion on Route 24 in Oak Orchard. The event, to be held from noon until 9 p.m., rain or shine, indoors or outside, is called Concert for a Random Soldier. It takes its name from the book that Terri Clifton wrote, using much of Chad’s own writing from his high-school years and during his time in the military.

Seven local bands, as well as several acoustic musicians, will play a combination of rock, country, blues and heavy metal. The free concert includes a car show and the sale of T-shirts, food (catered at cost by Olde South BBQ and Catering, on Route 26 east of Dagsboro) and beverages.

Carl Peters is the guitarist and lead singer from the rock band Blind Willie. His band has played at every Concert for a Random Soldier and, like all the musicians, they play without payment. He got teary-eyed when he started talking about the meaning of the event.

“We love to play there and have fun, although it is hard. It’s something important for us to do for the Clifton family and for all the soldiers who’ve died. There should be a rule that children shouldn’t die before their parents…”

Peters said that, for this year’s concert, several of the musicians from different bands are planning to jam together – and he has heard that Lisa Says No will be playing again. And, undoubtedly, Saints of Chaos will perform “Paint It Black.”

Terri Clifton is particularly excited about this year’s concert.

“We have a major sponsor for the first time, Coors Beer, and Radio 97.7 Eagle’s Paula Sangeleer will be doing a live remote two-hour broadcast.”

But more than that, several individual Marines and their families, now part of her extended family, will also be returning for the occasion. And, this year, all proceeds will appropriately be donated to Guitars for Vets – an organization that provides guitars and lessons to wounded veterans.

“We hope to raise a lot of money. It’s a great cause,” Clifton said, “But more than that, we want to give people in Sussex County an option of something meaningful to do to acknowledge those who have sacrificed everything for their country. And, if a concert is not someone’s cup of tea, we hope by publicizing it, people will take a few minutes of their time to contemplate what Memorial Day is really all about.”

For more information, go to online.