Memorial Day Service
As the daughter of a Korean War Veteran, wife of a career Naval Officer and mother of a former RECON Marine it was an honor to address the people gathered in historic Edgefield Town Square, SC for the Memorial Day Service presented by the American Legion Auxiliary.
We Have Seen and We Remember
By Penny L. Hunt
I will never smell the fragrance of lavender without recalling the small village of La Brigue, France and D-day.
During the time my husband served as an attaché in France we were invited to spend a weekend with friends at their mountain home near the Italian border. Our arrival in La Brigue, an ancient village of indescribable beauty and charm, coincided with the anniversary date of American troops landing in Menton and Ventimiglia to begin the liberation of France during World War II.
News of an American naval officer and his family visiting the tiny village quickly spread from home to home and the next morning as we walked with our friends to the market place a most remarkable thing happened.
Unknown to us, there were still living in La Brigue men and women who had experienced the occupation and liberation of their village. Three of these women, anticipating our walk to the market sat together on a bench with hopes of catching us as we walked by. When they saw my husband they eagerly motioned for us to come near them.
Our friends, a bit embarrassed, explained they were just harmless old busy bodies but asked if we would be so kind as to humor them with a short visit.
What happened next changed me forever.
As our friends made the customary introductions the women stood, and one-by-one to embrace my husband and shower him with kisses of adoration.
Bill is, to me, a handsome man, but this was over the top! Had they mistaken him for a movie star? I was confused until, through the interpretation assistance of our friends, I began to understand what all the fuss was about.
These elderly women had been waiting on that bench since the opening of the market in hopes of being able to personallythank my American military husband for what our country had done for them so many years earlier.
With tears they shared the stories surrounding the day of liberation, repeatedly stoking my husband’s arm, thanking him for coming.
As we bid them Bon Jour and headed again in the direction of the Marche a little girl ran breathlessly up the cobblestone street in an effort to catch up with us. She explained to our hosts that her grandmother had sent her with a gift to find us. Again, as introductions were made, the little girl reached out, took my hand and pressed into it handkerchief neatly tied and filled with lavender. As I accepted the gift she performed a little courtesy and then, as young girls do, quickly ran away!
To have witnessed and received such an emotionally unchecked outpouring of appreciation from members of a generation who had faced the fear of oppression and known the joy the liberation was a truly overwhelming experience. To have bestowed upon us the gratitude due the men who only a generation ago willingly gave their lives for the cause of freedom and peace will never be forgotten. I will never smell the fragrance of lavender without remembering those now at eternal rest beneath the soil of a land that was never their own.
They are a generation quickly fading, vanishing daily by the thousands, before our very eyes. But they and those like them who came before and after them are not forgotten. For we have seen, and we remember.
You have seen them too.
And you have seen the flags.
Flags, lifted from the tops of caskets to be meticulously folded by strong, white-gloved hands in a ceremonial doubling that completes itself with no stripe of red showing, for now no more blood is flowing.
You have seen them.
Flags that rest on the shelves of mobile homes and hilltop mansions incased in triangles of cedar, cherry and pine. Look closely behind the non-glare glass at the field of navy blue stars and you will see the stain of tears that fell as taps was played as over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again as another son, daughter, husband, wife, lover, brother, sister, father or mother is interred.
Dust to dust – ashes to ashes. Gone forever leaving an empty place in the garden of our lives that can never be replaced.
We stagger from the gravesides of our fallen to the refuge and shelter of waiting cars and drive away comforting ourselves with reminders of eternal life for those who trust in Jesus and dream of the sweet by-and-by when we will one day be reunited
Dust settles atop the wooden triangles and is wiped away with soft cloth and lemon-fragranced polish. Time passes, grass grows and as friends, as families as communities we begin to heal.
But we do not forget!
And we commemorate.
We are the ones who have been left behind.
We are the witnesses – the keepers of the truth who remember the challenges, the terrible cost of war, the suffering, the broken societies, the countries destroyed and those who stood with strong, bloodied hands to defend the defenseless and wrench them from the grip of demented, demon-possessed rulers, evil beyond understanding, unwaveringly bent on the annihilation of those they deem unworthy of life or who stand in the way of their insatiable lust for power.
These are wars that no one wanted, but these are the wars that had to be fought!
And we remember.
We remember in our town squares and city parks.
We remember in our state capitals and along our highways.
We remember with ships entombed in the waters of Pearl Harbor, national cemeteries where today the glorious symbol of our nation flutters in row upon row of red, white and blue in front of the graves of those who served, defended and protected us.
We have seen them.
And we remember.
We remember, in our nation’s capital with monuments erected to memorialize, with respect and reverence, both our nation’s Presidents and our war heroes through magnificently crafted images and remarkable inscriptions. Monuments like:
- The Washington Monument
- Lincoln Memorial
- World War I Memorial
- Jefferson Memorial
- Iwo Jima Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial
- Women in Military Service For America Memorial
- World War II Memorial
- The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- And in New York City, a field in Pennsylvania and on the grounds of the Pentagon in Washington, DC we remember September 11, 2001.
The whole earth is the tomb of heroes, and dare I say it, she–roes.
Women who cross-dressed as men to serve in the Civil War lie buried alongside fellow soldiers, their sex undiscovered even in death. She–roes who have extended home front duties to those of the battlefield. Women who have served as nurses in every war of our nation’s history, have spied, staffed recreation centers, typed letters that began, “We regret to inform you…” and in today’s battles are mothers shouldering weapons who drive tanks, perform surgeries, command forces and write intelligence briefings.
Today, women make up 15 percent of the active duty forces and 20 percent of the reserves. They are privates, sergeants, lieutenants, colonels, generals and admirals. They are all-to-often unacknowledged and unappreciated. They are the she-roes of war who, alongside the brave men we esteem as heroes, have given their lives in the line of duty.
The stories of these men and women are written on more than stones with dates of birth and death. Their stories are written in the spaces between those dashes and remain, without visible symbol, woven into the fabric of our lives and the lives of every American.
I would be remiss if, on this day, I did not remind us that we have been at war for over 13 years! I know You who have set aside time to gather here in Edgefield’s Town Square to honor and remember the ultimate sacrifice of freedom’s defenders “get it”. You are exceptional and I applaud you!
The general public is incredibly isolated, under informed and, often disinterested in the 2.5 million members of the Army, Navy,
Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and related Reserve and National Guard units, including our own South Carolina 122ndEngineer Battalion, who have been deployed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars since the U.S. went to war in 2001. Moreover, According to Department of Defense 37,000 Americans had been deployed more than five times,
Why? Why does the average American citizen “little note nor long remember” the significance of this day? I believe it is because they have not been persuaded to know there is a time to put down the carrot and pick up the stick. They choose to look away and not to focus on the cost of that resolve as it is played out with flags in nearly every American community. Flags that have been draped on caskets numbering nearly 7,000 that have been collected by loved ones in airports across America. Our eyes have been veiled and our ears numbed to the cries of the brokenhearted and grieving.
And how can we even begin to imagine the effects of this war and how they will linger for years – for lifetimes – for decades… Already, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have produced more disability claims per veteran than any other war including Vietnam, Korea and World War II.
VA records show more than 1.6 million military members who had been deployed in The Global War On Terror have already transitioned to veteran status. And, of those veterans, approximately 670,000 have been awarded disability status connected to their military service. Another 100,000 have their initial claims pending. And more – many, many more – a tsunami
wave of “more” are headed our way. With the drawdown now past mid-point, 32,800 American men and women will soon return to their homeland with plans, at a later date, for the return of another 10,000 soldiers.
As I spend time with Wounded Warriors and their families, I am overwhelmed with the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of those suffering with the consequences of traumatic injuries and brain damage.
Not all have died. Many, as I once heard a veteran say, have done the harder thing. They have lived.
Today, at 3:00 the President has, by official proclamation, requested all Americans to pause for a moment of silent reflection and remember those who have paid the supreme price for our freedom and peace.
But I say – let’s not do that!
Let’s not stand in silence!
Instead, let us raise our voices in words of grateful praise and thanksgiving.
Let us vow to remember and memorialize those who have died for us.
And let us purpose and promise with passion to meet the needs of those who have and will return from the long, hard and mortal 13 years of war our nation has endured.
I will not stand in silence at 3:00 today.
Today I will look beyond the poppies of Flanders Field and heavenward above our marble memorials.
Today I will sing.
No, I will shout!
I will shout To The Lord
My comfort, my shelter,
My Tower of refuge and strength;
I will thank Him for you.
And I will thank Him for the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.
I will join my voice with millions of others and shout to the Lord in One Voice – thanking Him for my brothers and sisters whose blood has colored ocean waves red, seeped unseen into the sands of foreign lands and been lapped by dogs in the streets of places where terror once, but no longer reigns.
I will shout to the Lord thanking Him and beseeching Him for His continued blessing upon America.
Will you join me today at 3 O’clock?
Will you shout with me – out loud or in the deep well of your heart for those whose memory we honor in flags, lowed this Memorial Day in remembrance of their valor.
As I stand and look upon the ceremonial wreath and crosses placed here in our elegant town square, I proudly stand among those who have seen; seen the flags, the caskets and the burial grounds of our warriors past and present.
I stand among those who remember and I am honored to be among you, to know you and to call you friends. I am proud to be the wife of a warrior, an American and a member of the American Legion Auxiliary.
Thank you for being here.
May God bless you.
And may God bless America.