Memorial Day: “Who Else But A Soldier”

By Beverly Gadson-Birch  

Special recognition goes out to our veterans and those who sacrificed their life in the name of freedom.  Each year as we observe Memorial Day, I am reminded of my dad and his appreciation of veterans. Dad wasn’t a veteran; but he never missed the opportunity on Decoration Day to take his kids to the Beaufort National Cemetery.

As a kid, I did not know the meaning of Decoration Day; but, dad knew.  It was a day to honor fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flags and flowers. You just can’t beat life’s lessons. Life’s lessons are ingrained in the very fabric of our being. Some things you just can’t teach; you must experience them.

Wikipedia had this to say about Decoration Day:  After “more than 600,000 soldiers of both sides died in the Civil War the burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance.  The women during the war began the formal practice of decorating graves.”

Wikipedia also noted that an earlier observance, May 1, 1865, of decorating graves was attributed to African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina as inventing Memorial Day.  This was based on accounts in the Charleston Daily Courier and coverage by the New York Times. According to Snopes, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a Presidential Proclamation recognizing Waterloo as the Birthplace of Memorial Day. 

The observance was then changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day to memorialize all war veterans.  Several other states lay claim to the origin of Memorial Day.  It really doesn’t matter who wins the claim of being first to establish Decoration Day, the South lost the war.   There really are no winners when you have more than half a million lives lost. Veterans who lost their lives are more important than self or state recognition. Occasionally, I still visit Beaufort National Cemetery.  I have family and friends buried there.

Last year, I visited the grave of a former classmate, Winston Hamilton. Standing there, I wondered what Winston’s life would have been like.  What roads to success would he have traveled. Instead, he traveled the jungles of Viet Nam and lost his life. Winston will always be a part of my life. We were in third grade together.  Winston sat behind me in class and pulled my pony tail. I reported him to the teacher but that did not stop Winston. I was eating lunch outdoors at school one day when I saw Winston on the football field.  He threw a football almost the length of the field and ran faster than lightning. I never forgot that moment. I soon realized that all of us have potential. I later learned that the pulling of my ponytail meant he liked me.

Then there was Wesley Parker, another football great who was killed in Viet Nam.  He played for the Wallace Wildcats.  I remember the first time Wallace beat the mighty Burke Bulldogs and had to run for the bus. Burke Bulldogs had an unbeatable reputation.  Wesley was instrumental in winning that game. Like many other soldiers fresh out of high school, he was taken away far too soon. And someone needs to remember them to tell their story.

As I thought of the many veterans who lost their lives without ever having first lived, Charlestonian Ralph H. Johnson, who the VA hospital is named for and a newly commissioned state of the art guided missile destroyer, immediately came to mind.   PFC Johnson is also buried in Beaufort National Cemetery. He lost his life in Viet Nam at the early age of 19 by heroically throwing his body on a grenade to save two fellow marines sharing his foxhole. What 19-year-old thinks that way? Who gives up their life at 19 to save others? Who else but a soldier!!

Hats off to our men and women in the military!!  And, to all fallen soldiers, thank you for your service.

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