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'But we can't forget'

Scroll down for a story about how people with relatives overseas in the military are coping with the holiday. — — — Some hope Memorial Day renews the patriotism they fear may be fading

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 united the nation and produced a surge of renewed patriotism among millions of Americans.

But after the Veterans Day holiday, some local residents say they've noticed a decline of outward support for America.

Fewer flags grace car antennas. Old Glory doesn't fly daily at many of the places she once did, and homemade displays of support have disappeared from windows and yards.

It's just time to move on, said Jennifer Tanner, a Medford secretary who removed a sun-faded paper copy of a flag from her window last month. It's not that I've stopped caring, and nobody will ever forget (9/11). There's other things I can do to show my support.

Waitress Nel Smith, whose son has been deployed to the Sinai Peninsula with the Oregon Army National Guard, wishes that a permanent reminder of the attacks could be erected in Southern Oregon.

Red, white and blue flowers grace her Medford home, and Smith wears an American flag pendant daily to show her support.

I think it's sad. I think a lot of us aren't quite as in touch with things as we were when everything blew up, Smith said. If we don't, I just have a feeling that there will be grim consequences.

Medford contractor Tom Owens proudly displays a patriotic bumper sticker on his vehicle. He hopes Memorial Day will renew a sense of patriotism among residents.

Owens plans to spend Monday quietly celebrating with family, reflecting upon what this country stands for and those who have lost their lives in service, even though he's not a veteran.

I think it's a little different now, he said. Time has passed ... but we can't forget.

Retired Medford residents Clara and Milford White didn't wait until Monday to pay tribute to fallen soldiers. The couple visited Eagle Point National Cemetery on Friday, taking with them a coffee can brimming with red, orange and pink roses. The flowers, picked fresh from her own garden, were placed on the grave of White's uncle.

He was there for most of the family, White said of Elmer Barnes, a local resident and World War II veteran who died in 2000. He meant a lot to us.

For the Whites, Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have died, both civilian and military, and celebrating family.

Milford White, however, said he believes Memorial Day has become more important to many residents because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

They have more to think about now, he added. It's a reminder.

Honoring Memorial Day is a crucial thing at Eagle Point National Cemetery, noted director Darryl Ferrell.

Basically, we're still here to honor our fallen veterans and offer comfort to the families, Ferrell said, adding that volunteers play a large role in the holiday by raising and later removing flags at the facility and at gravesides. People go out of their way to do that.

At the Veterans Affairs Domiciliary in White City, spokesman Bill Petrocine said there's a sense of patriotism at the facility year-round, and it's simply heightened following the Sept. 11 attacks.

On Memorial Day, Petrocine noted that Domiciliary residents have a tendency to step up to the plate by volunteering or donating their time for community events or needs.

I do think that appreciation during these particular days are greater. Not necessarily of the veterans here, but the community at large, Petrocine said. The feeling of country is strong and people are certainly more appreciative for those who have sacrificed something to enable to let us live in a free country.

The retail industry has developed a new attitude for all patriotic holidays, one that revolves around marketing.

Nationwide, a surge of red, white and blue merchandise has filled shelves ' everything from patriotic-themed sheets to table settings to clothing.

With Memorial Day looming, many national chains are slapping stars and stripes to their print and television advertising.

Despite the hype and hoopla, local retailers report that Old Glory continues to dominate the market, although red, white and blue lawn chairs and lawn decorations also sell like hotcakes.

Hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, customers snatched up flags and began clamoring for more. Buyers were hard-pressed to stock shelves. It wasn't until the Christmas season ended that owner Don Pfaff could keep flags on the shelves of his Central Point business, The Flag Department.

We're still having a few problems, Pfaff said. Although he's stocking nylon flags of all sizes, Pfaff said he hasn't been able to purchase Old Glory in polyester.

He anticipates a surge in sales that will level off after Labor Day.

People are still buying but it's not as heavy, he said. People have their flags. Now it's just upgrading.

Tom Mayer, a buyer for Black Bird in Medford, said there was a slight lull in flag sales between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

It's definitely spiked again, Mayer said. I'm gambling that with Memorial Day and Fourth of July that this will probably be a bigger than normal season.

Families with kin in service cope with holiday separation

On a day that has become synonymous with family dinners and get-togethers, South Medford High School graduate and Marine Cpl. Tony Darland won't get to hold the 3-month-old son he's never met.

Ruch pastor and National Guard Maj. Ron McKay won't say grace before sitting down to a family dinner with his wife and sons.

And Medford residents Nel and Wayne Smith, for the sake of their children, will try to enjoy a family celebration that their eldest son, 26-year-old Oregon Army National Guard Sgt. Justin J. Swangel, cannot attend.

Swangel left behind a 2-year-old daughter as well when he left Southern Oregon with the Delta Unit out of Merlin last month.

I think there's a real common look in all of our eyes, said Nel Smith, a waitress. There's the possibility that all our boys might not come home.

McKay, pastor of the Ruch Community Bible Church, is serving as the battalion chaplain with the 186th Infantry. He left the Rogue Valley with more than 600 New Testaments to pass out to his fellow soldiers.

Wife Martha McKay said the fact that their sons are older makes the separation easier to endure. McKay's father will conduct church services in his absence.

She said coping with Ron McKay's departure is aided by her family's faith in God. The McKays have planned a quiet get-together to celebrate Memorial Day that will involve reflection and prayer.

The greatest thing about this for us is that we have a great faith in God, McKay said. God is going to use him in a special way. It's his job to really care about the soldiers.

Another aspect easing 47-year-old Ron McKay's absence is technology. McKay said it's possible to communicate frequently with her husband through computers.

That makes a huge difference, she said. And we've got a tremendous support system.

But communicating with a child assigned to active duty isn't as easy, Medford advertising representative Sandy Darland can attest.

She's received only a handful of e-mails and phone calls since her son was called to active duty in December, along with a single picture via e-mail of her son dressed in camouflage, an unidentified desert serving as the backdrop.

The Darland family believes son Tony, 26, may be stationed Southeast Asia. Security protocol keeps the families of active soldiers in the dark regarding their whereabouts.

It's tough. It's tough having a family holiday and not having all your loved ones, Sandy Darland said. But getting together is a solace for us.

Tony Darland's wife, Jenna, and their 3-month-old son, Nolan, are staying in Michigan until the family can be reunited. He will be assigned to San Diego and leave the military in October to seek a job in law enforcement.

He hasn't seen his own baby. It's heart-breaking, Sandy Darland said.

To cope, Sandy Darland continues to send chatty e-mails to her son, full of the day-to-day details of life ' a remodel of the family's kitchen, a new roof on the home.

I don't want him to have life go by without having him know about the little things going on in the Rogue Valley, Darland said. I want him to know about the ordinary things.

Scenic Middle School seventh-grader Alyssa Richardson, 13, carries an armful of flags. She and other students posted the flags on graves Friday at the Eagle Point National Cemetery. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli