The first tradition of Memorial Day began in 1868 by General John Logan, the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, said 1st Sgt. Retired Stephen Page — a guest speaker at the Memorial Day ceremony held in the Waterfront Park Monday.

Three years after the Civil War ended, 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were dead — more dead than in all the other wars the U.S. has been in combined, said Page.

Designated in May 1868 by Logan as Decoration Day, that first tradition was for the purpose of decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country during a late rebellion, and whose bodies lay in almost every city and state in the nation, said Page. In 1961 it was declared Memorial Day.

To date, Page said, “The total Americans who have died in all our ward put together: 1,338,023 lost souls, and that’s who we’re here to honor today.”

He doesn’t have the total numbers of people dead in Afghanistan and Iraq and other current areas of conflict or the people who go beyond the lines as Navy Seals or operate for the CIA under a military designation, or the people who are missing in action.

Page, of Frenchville, was involved in the American Legion Post 132 in Richmond from 2003-2010 when he lived in Durham and Winthrop. Wearing a Green Beret, he was a member of the U.S. Army Special Forces.

He started his military career in Vietnam and served in Panama, Grenada, Dessert Storm and Somalia, “and missions that I can’t talk about because they’re still classified.”

He earned two Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars and traveled to 42 countries during his service. He was stationed at several bases around the U.S. then to Bad Tolz, Germany for two years.

“The most frightening one for me, they told me to grow my hair and get my Canadian passport,” the Canadian born veteran said. “I said ‘Why?’ They said, ‘You’re going over the wall.’ I said, ‘Oh dear God.’ I was in East Germany passing notes and doing other things, in civilian clothes and when they caught you in civilian clothes over there, you were shot on sight. You weren’t even given a trial.”

At 66, his 21-year military career spanned from 1973-1994. There were 210 try out for special forces and he remembers that 62 passed those courses.

“I’m the last living member of that class,” Page said. It was dangerous work, “It was fun. Jumping out of airplanes was fun.”

He jumped from as high an altitude as 7 miles, in an insertion technique called a HALO. There was also the HAHO where you travel 14 or 15 miles sideways. He’d jump at night with a sack weighting 150 to 175 pounds strapped to leg carrying all of his clothes and equipment.

Monday, he remembered all of those people in his special forces class who are gone and said, “I was very proud to come down here and honor them.”

He also remembered the day he and 13 others were sent into a Soviet Country to bring out a man who was gathering intelligence.

“They heard we were coming. We went out of the aircraft — 14 of us. Seven of us hit the ground alive. When we finally got to the guy and brought him out, the rest of the seven of us had multiple wounds and we walked out of the Soviet country bringing him with us” Page said. “I lost seven guys — I can name each and every one — seven guys in the air. They never even got a chance to hit the ground.”

After they hit the ground, they left their equipment and took off running, living off the land and in civilian clothes the whole time.

“That was the worse mission I’d ever been on,” Page said. “As the medic, as the guy who takes care of these boys, you hurt. You really hurt, to even lose one.”

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