Memorial Day tradition of paying tribute

Veterans Arthur Lander (left) and Louis Deutch  salute veterans buried at Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery. For almost 60 years, Lander has visited St. Louis’ Jewish cemeteries to pay tribute to Jewish veterans.  Lander, along with  family members and other veterans visited seven Jewish cemeteries on Sunday (below). Photos: Kristi Foster

By Repps Hudson, Special to the Jewish Light

Some veterans never stop serving their country or their fellow veterans.

Take Arthur Lander, who was drafted months after the Korean War began and served as an enlisted man in Germany at the outset of the Cold War. 

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In 1952, when the Washington University graduate returned to civilian life to run the family business, Lander Binder and Finishing, Lander also decided he should do something to honor his fellow veterans. 

He was encouraged by another veteran who paid Lander’s dues to encourage him join an American Legion post. Lander has continued his involvement in the veterans group for decades. 

Now 86, Lander, a member of Congregation B’nai Amoona, continues to lead essentially the same Memorial Day observance he has led for nearly 60 years.

A long-standing member and past commander of the Jerome L. Goldman American Legion Post No. 96, he makes the annual tribute as a member of that organization of local veterans.

He believes the impact on those who join in the 10-minute ceremony is significant.

“I can see how it affects those attending” the ceremony, Lander said during an interview at his home in Creve Coeur. “It’s an honor to do that. The people who participate are affected by it.

“It’s a moving experience,” he added. “They don’t have to do it. They want to do it…. Once they do it, we’ve got ‘em hooked. They feel it the way we feel it.”

Starting early in the morning, Lander heads out with a coterie of family and friends to seven Jewish cemeteries, lays a wreath near the flag pole at the entrance, makes sure the American flag is at half mast, reads an American Legion statement about the honor of serving in the military and then sounds “Taps,” the requiem for those in uniform who have died.

Members of the group also fire a six-shot salute at each cemetery using World War I bolt-action Enfield rifles.

This past Sunday, Lander and his group, which included his sons, Steve and Mike, and his daughter, Cindy Lander Wallach, and her son and daughter, began their day of honor and tribute at 8:30 a.m. at New Mount Sinai Cemetery, 8430 Gravois Road, where more than 500 veterans of the Spanish-American War and later wars are buried.

They finished their caravan journey four hours and many miles later at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery at 650 White Road in Chesterfield. Their trek traces the evolution of Jewish cemeteries and the Jewish community in the St. Louis area, beginning at the oldest, New Mount Sinai in Affton, which dates to 1850.

The day this year was not without incident.

Steve Lander, who has been joining his father in the ceremony for 10 years, said that when they fired the six-shot salute at one cemetery in University City, several police cars swept down on the site. 

Even though he had asked permission of each police jurisdiction to fire blanks in honor of the veterans, someone in the University City Police Department didn’t get the word. But the misunderstanding was cleared up quickly, and the Landers’ ceremonies continued.

Although he’s not a veteran, Steve Lander feels strongly that the tradition his father began in the 1950s must continue.

“As I got older,” Steve said, “I recognized the sacrifice our veterans have made. I didn’t serve. This is my way of showing how much I appreciate the freedom we have here.”

Anita Lander, Steve’s mother, said that her son noticed a couple of years ago that the number of people in her husband’s annual Memorial Day observance had begun to decline until the group was in danger of disappearing.

“A lot of the duties fell on Art and the older group,” she said. “Steve really took offense to the fact that it was not going to continue. Steve believes this observance has to continue to show respect for vets.”

Steve, who now runs the family business with his brother, Mike, decided to take up where his father is leaving off.

“Two years ago, there were only three or four old timers left,” he said. “I made an announcement that I’d like to ensure that this tradition goes on as long as I’m around.”

At 49, Steve figures he can do as his father has done in leading the Memorial Day ceremony for 30 years or so.

Cindy Lander Wallach also feels strongly that the ceremony her father started sends a powerful message to her children.

“It is important to me to pass this on to my kids,” she said. “My daughter, Abby, picked pink roses in our garden to make a bouquet. She put them at the entrance of one of the cemeteries. My son brought his camera and a tripod and documented the ceremony at each cemetery.”

Like others who note the contributions generations of veterans have made to protect their country and its values, Steve Lander is concerned that many parents are not telling their children about the value of military service and respecting those who have served. 

“I don’t think these young kids are being taught about these sacrifices,” he said. “I wish more parents taught their kids about military service.”

One way, he believes, is to participate in a ceremony each Memorial Day weekend like his father created nearly 60 years ago.

To repeat what Art Lander said, “Once they do it, they’re hooked.”