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On Memorial Day, thinking about those who served

Years ago, I was travelling with a business group near the Alabama/Mississippi state line when we paused in a Mississippi restaurant for lunch.

The place was vintage south, and had obviously been in business a long time. I couldn’t tell you the town, nor the restaurant, if my life depended upon it, and I don’t remember what we had for lunch.

What I do remember was that, decades after World War II had ended, the restaurant still had 8×10 framed photographs on the wall of all the locals who’d lost their lives in that war in service to our country. I am quite certain there were photos from Korea and Vietnam there, too, but it is the ones from the Great War which are etched into my mind.

It’s not something we see much anymore, and for that we should be grateful. We are fortunate that the United States has not been embroiled in similar, all-encompassing conflict in the decades since World War II ended. Sue Bass Wilson’s column in today’s edition, in which she shares letters written home by a young Andalusia soldier of that era, is a reminder of what those days were like.

America fights differently today, favoring the use of drones and air strikes over combat when possible. Still, we send young people into harm’s way, and some of them aren’t returned to us.

This weekend, separated by decades from those larger conflicts, most of us are focused more on the relief of a three-day weekend and the prospect of relaxed days ahead.

But we shouldn’t forget that the holiday that makes this a three-day weekend was established in memory of Americans who fought each other in a great civil conflict, and later expanded to include those lost in all wars.

I have watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. I have stood silently at the very somber wall in Washington, D.C., as my husband found the names of friends who weren’t as fortunate as he, who did not return from Vietnam. Both were sobering experiences, but no more moving than seeing flags on the graves of veterans in local cemeteries.

Fr. Frank Mathews, who was a former Marine and knew well the need, used these words from the Book of Common Prayer in every service:

“Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces, at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

If you are not a veteran, join me in thanking those who have, or are serving, as well as their families who sit and wait. Peace to you all.

 

Michele Gerlach is the publisher of The Star-News.