R-C area remembers fallen heroes

Published 8:54 am Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The colors flew in all their glory, history and reflections were shared and those who paid the ultimate price for their fellow Americans’ freedom were remembered.

At two separate ceremonies in two different towns, citizens of Northampton County gathered for the same reason: to observe Memorial Day.

The day reserved to remember those American military members who have given their lives on the battlefield began in the mid-1860s during the Civil War and was brought about by the grieving mothers, wives, daughters and sisters who would lay flowers on soldiers’ graves. “Decoration Day,” as it was known, became Memorial Day in 1971, when it was declared a federal holiday.

On Monday morning, the town of Conway and the Northampton County Veterans’ Service held Memorial Day ceremonies.

The town of Conway held their ceremony in front of their Veterans’ Memorial. A dozen or so veterans stood together in a saluted position as the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and Taps was recited and played.

Jimmy Collier and Laverne Howell laid a wreath in front of five stones representing the branches of the U.S. Military.

Chuck Youse, a retired U.S. Army Major from Henrico, served as the guest speaker.

“America is rich with the spirit of sacrifice,” he said. “It is a nation whose citizens have bled on the battlefields the world over for the benefit of all people. It is a land where we are free to pursue happiness and growth, to live safely and fully.”

Youse reminded the crowd why they gathered; “to consider our privilege of liberty and recall the hells America’s military endured to earn it.”

“Celebration and sadness; victory and death; hope and helplessness; relief and rage; these are the conflicting emotions we feel today,” he said. “They are emotions that have become embedded in our history, for brave Americans have been buying our freedom and protecting our interests with their lives in wars and conflicts since the first colonial soldiers took up arms in 1775.”

Youse noted the importance and challenge of keeping the Memorial Day tradition alive.

“Not only do we owe it to ourselves to value what those we honor here today have earned, but we are also honor-bound to use the lessons of their blood and sweat for the betterment of tomorrow,” he said. “Yes, our freedom had already been preserved by the brave. They fulfilled their responsibilities and now we must fulfill ours.”

Youse spoke of the hardships and burdens experienced by military families in being separated from their loved ones and working to create a loving household and preserving their family bonds.

“As a nation, we must support our military families as much as we do the individual solider,” he said. “Like Memorial Day, these families remind us of what we can all achieve when we pull together as one nation, respecting each other with all of our myriad of differences.”

In Jackson, the Northampton County Veterans’ Service Office held a ceremony in front of the Courthouse steps. The sounds of the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and Taps once again filled the air.

Albert Vann of American Legion Post 111 and Steve Jackson of VFW Post 4312 laid a wreath at the memorial stone in front of the courthouse. The two men were assisted by the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office who presented the colors.

Dr. Al Wentzy of Seaboard, a retired Joint Services’ Commander serving all branches of the military, served as the ceremony’s guest speaker.

Wentzy began by quoting journalist Ernie Pyle’s words from 1944 on the beginning of the Normandy invasion: “Darkness enveloped the whole American armada. Not a pinpoint of light showed from those hundreds of ships as they surged on through the night toward their destiny, carrying across the ageless and indifferent sea tens of thousands of young men, fighting for…for, well, at least each other.”

Wentzy noted how the quote painted a picture of fear and confusion surrounding soldiers on the eve of battle and how the writer’s words put Americans in touch with their patriotism, pride and understanding of who they are and how the country became a nation.

“Even more, this renowned journalist’s words cause us to remember the cost of bringing America this far and also forces us to admit the price is not yet paid in full,” he said. “This is what Memorial Day symbolizes—a time Americans take a clear look at both our past and our future.”

Wentzy spoke about how those who serve in the military love their country so much so they spend long years overseas and often in harms way.

“They defend our right to live as individuals, yet yield their individuality in military service,” he said. “Perhaps most confusing of all, they value life, so they bravely ready themselves to die in the service of our country—when our military enlist or are commissioned, they sign a contract and a proverbial blank check payable to the United States of America for injury or sacrifice of their life.”

He questioned why soldiers fight for the country and said the answer was simple, yet as complex as the soul of America itself.

“Our soldiers fight and die not for the glory of war, but for the prize of freedom,” he said. “The heart of America is freedom, for ourselves and all nations willing to fight for it; and, the price is high, but freedom is a wealth no debt can encumber.”

Wentzy concluded in reminding the crowd who it was and continues to do so in giving each American their freedom and rights.

“It is the veteran, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press; it is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech; it is the veteran, not the campus organizer who has given us freedom to demonstrate,” he continued. “It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial; it is the veteran who preserves our freedom and gives us opportunities.”