There’s no one person who springs to mind for Gene Strader on Memorial Day each year. But that doesn’t mean he forgets any Sugar Land veterans who have given their lives in the line of duty.
In fact, Strader has strived to honor them all by attending Sugar Land’s annual Memorial Day celebration, which he has done for more than 10 years, saying the occasion serves a dual purpose of remembrance and as a breath of fresh air.
“Memorial Day really rejuvenates me from the standpoint of what I did, when I served and that I’m proud of serving,” he said.
Each year, Strader has joined with hundreds of Sugar Land residents in listening to patriotic music and engaging in educational and commemorative activities, on-site military exhibits and a flag ceremony during a Memorial Day event that celebrates those like him as well as those who died while serving their country. And even though that celebration must take place virtually this year due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, it doesn’t take away from the spirit of the event or military service for Strader.
“A lot of people don’t understand some of the things you go through to serve your country,” he said, referring to the structure of military life as well as combat. “Those are the things that hit home to me more than anything, and those who haven’t served don’t understand the true significance of serving.”
For Strader, remembering that service includes his time as part of invading American forces during John F. Kennedy’s administration in the early 1960s. Strader said he was attached to the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army in Panama from 1961-63, serving in a specialized modular light infantry division trained for air assault operations.
He had an older brother who served in Okinawa, Japan, and a younger brother serving in Germany at the same time he served.
“This day has a lot of meaning to me,” he said. “It’s great to see everyone who’s been in the service and devoted their time and efforts, whether they’ve lost their lives or been wounded. It’s a very meaningful time.”
The pandemic will prevent Strader from celebrating Memorial Day like he usually does, but he’ll celebrate nonetheless.
“(Memorial Day) has a great impact, because (the service) is something I think about almost every day,” he said. “It doesn’t leave my memory.”