Pam Dudding Contributing writer
In the United States of America, the scripture reference in the book of John that states, “No greater love has any man, than to lay down his life for his friends,” stands strong in the hearts and minds of many Americans.
In the year 1912, Craig County citizens started a Memorial Day service in honor of those men and women who had been killed in the military service and have religiously carried on that tradition.
“The Confederate statue which stands in front of the Craig County Courthouse was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1912,” Diane Givens shared. “Since that time, the New Castle Town Council along with ladies of the UDC and other community groups have honored U.S. war veterans with a service on Memorial Day at the courthouse.”
However, the town canceled this year’s annual ceremony.
Local Commander of the Craig Valley VFW Post 4491, Billy Lee, shared that when their members heard the annual event had been cancelled, “We decided there wasn’t any virus or anything short of God Himself that was going to keep us from honoring our fallen brothers and sisters.”
With the permission from The Field of Dreams, they chose to have a service there and invited anyone who wished to attend.
People drove in and stood in front of their vehicles to be a part of this heartfelt event.
Representatives from Craig’s Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) attended, handed out American flags and placed a beautiful wreath at the podium which was later taken to the courthouse for the day.
Dressed in red, white and blue, Diane Givens, Geraldine Sizer and Margaret Hines, added a sense of American patriotism that seemed to ignite the atmosphere.
Though older, and climbing the hill appeared difficult for some of Craig’s VFW Veterans, no one complained as they honorably posted the flag and took it to half-staff, in remembrance of those who never came home from war or died from its effects on them.
The National Anthem was led and beautifully sung by Hannah Taylor. It seemed to echo not only in the valley of the mountains but throughout the hearts of all who attended.
Lee spoke and shared a story. “There was a man named Dan Bullard. Dan was born in Carolina. His mother died when he was eleven years old and he went to live with his father in New York. Dan always wanted to be a Marine and when the Vietnam War was going on, he wanted to go fight for his country and fight the North Vietnamese, so he joined the Marine Corp.”
Lee explained that one of Dan’s friends said he was having a difficult time keeping up in boot camp.
“But he struggled through it and made it and after boot camp was sent to Vietnam and was with the 2nd Battalion 5th Marines 1st Marines Division,” Lee continued. “One month after Dan was sent to Vietnam, he was killed. That made Dan the youngest person to be on the Vietnam wall because Dan was only fourteen years old when he joined the Marine Corp.”
Lee noted that Dan had changed his own birth certificate to read that he was 18. Dan was killed at age 15.
Lee shared another story of one of his friends, Jamie Aurora.
“We all called him Poncho. He was called a ‘bloop man’ because he carried a grenade launcher,” Lee said. “Once when we were on operation, he was getting on a helicopter and it got hit with an RPG. Dan was immediately killed.”
Lee noted that about 20 years later, on Memorial Day, he went to a website he looks at: ‘Thewall-USA.com’. It has a list of all the people killed in Vietnam and encourages people to write on it.
A Ms. Dawson explained she was Dan’s cousin and always wondered what he looked like and that she would like to know about him and what had happened.
Lee wrote her and she gratefully responded.
She told Lee the story that Poncho was only 17 years old when he joined the Marine Corp. “His mother didn’t want him to go but his father went ahead and signed for him,” Lee continued with the story. “When Poncho died and they sent his remains back, his mother and brothers thought he really didn’t die because the coffin was so light. They thought he was just ashamed to come home. So, they never hung pictures of him. His mother got so mad and said that it was his daddy’s fault. Three months later, the dad hung himself.”
Lee added, “I happened to have a picture and sent it to her and shared what happened to him and that all they were able to find was his foot. So, that is probably why the coffin was so light. I asked her to show his picture to her family and tell them about Poncho.”
Lee noted, “This is just two stories of the 1.3 million people that gave their lives for our freedom. For about 350 years, people in America have come together when they needed and fought and gave their lives for freedom. That is what we are doing here today, honoring those who gave their lives for ‘our’ freedom.”
The VFW Post then proceeded with a 21-gun salute that created an echo that could pierce anyone’s heart. Taps was played. All remained silent and at honorary attention.
Lee ended the ceremony, “We want to thank The Field of Dreams for allowing us to use their facility, as the judge said we were not able to use the courthouse lawn. We want to thank all of you for coming out.”
People gave their appreciation to the VFW members and others who were there.
Many of the VFW members echoed the fact that “We remember that Veterans Day is for the Veterans, but Memorial Day is for the fallen who gave their lives for our freedom.”
Glenn Paxton, a Veteran of the United States Army, serving from 1965 to 1968 shared, “This day is a day set aside to remember our fallen brothers and to pay respects to them. I remember this all year long. Just think what we could have been had they lived. Maybe this world would have been a different place today.”
“All former service members have Veterans Day for the ones that gave their life in battle, to honor their service,” Walter Marsden, Veteran of the U.S. Navy shared. He served in Vietnam in 1965 as a gunners mate aboard USs Galveston CLG3. “Memorial Day means more to me because my family lost their lives from many battles. My father, from operations on his hip. His many medals did not replace him for me. My uncle from alcohol. He fought in Iwo Jima and my sister lost two husbands to agent orange. It makes me think of them more on Memorial Day.”
Lee, a Veteran from the Marines in Vietnam said, “It is a time to pay honor to those brothers and sisters who have given their lives for freedom. Veterans Day is living Veterans and Memorial Day is for Veterans who died in war. As a combat Marine, I personally have brothers I have fought with who have died in combat. Even though you spent only a few months with, you become closer than people you went to school twelve years with, because in combat, you tell each other not only about your life but all your hopes and dreams. You tell each other secrets that you would tell no one else. Personally, I wear a bracelet with the names of some Marines in my platoon I got real close to before they were killed, to honor them every day.”
“The first thing that comes to my mind is the word “Remembrance.” I “remember” the great men and women who made me “proud to serve”, shared Ken Looney, a Navy Veteran. All of those throughout the ages of time, who set the example and paid the price that was required, to ensure our freedom and our way of life, would never be taken from us, by anyone, either domestic or foe, who would wish to do our great Nation harm.”
“I was proud to serve, even though I missed a lot of “Home Time” with family and friends, in my 23 year Navy career, but that was secondary when compared to taking a stand for “God and Country.” So Memorial Day to me is when we take the time to look back and pay due respect to all who every served in the armed forces, knowing “that ALL paid some but some paid it ALL,” Looney added. “Thank You Veterans and Thank You, the VFW, for standing and fighting for our well-earned rights and benefits. It makes me proud to be able to stand with Brothers and Sisters who know the high price paid, to be a Life Member of the VFW and a Veteran of the greatest Nation ever, the United States of America. May God continue to bless the USA and it’s Hero’s, the Patriotic Veteran and their families, and may we never ever forget that “Freedom is Not FREE.”