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Remembering Our Veterans
5/29/2013 4:28:58 PM

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

Memorial Day was set aside to recognize members of the armed forces who gave their lives in the line of duty. Some of y’all ole schoolers may remember the day as Decoration Day. It was a day that we decorated the graves and placed flowers on the graves of family and friends.

My dad always took us to Beaufort to the National Cemetery to watch the ceremonies. Although my dad never served in the military, he always took the time out to say thank you to those that did. That was a day we looked forward to each year. The day started off with a parade and then the placing of flags at the headstone of each soldier.

I was always in awe at the countless rows of white headstones that lined up inside of the brick walls. I would walk between the stones and read out the names and dates and wondered who they were and where they came from when they were alive.

The longer I live the more I learn and sometimes the more I forget. However, today as we celebrate Memorial Day, my thoughts turn to those veterans who gave up their lives so that others could be free.

I will always remember Winston Hamilton and Wesley Parker, former schoolmates who lost their lives during the Viet Nam War. Both were fresh out of high school and had their dreams cut short in a war that most Americans felt was senseless. Wesley was one of those stand out football players.

I don’t remember Winston playing on the school’s team but I saw him playing sandlot football and he was good at it. He could kick a football almost the entire length of the field. And, talk about running.

I never saw any of the guys catch him.

I remember Winston sitting in class behind me and pulling my ponytail. I didn’t like that. Then, one day I found out that he liked me and that was why he often pulled my ponytail. We became friends. Today, I salute Winston, Wesley, their families and all veterans for their many sacrifices.

While families gather for their cook-outs, the focus of the day should be to reflect back and pay tribute to the men and women of the armed forces who so bravely defended this country. Oftentimes, we tend to take our freedom for granted. Even today while we are out grillin’ and chillin’, our servicemen and women are on duty protecting this country from those seeking to harm us. Memorial Day is not about us; it’s about our proud men and women in the military.

It’s about those men and women who made the supreme sacrifice.

It’s about Marines like Ralph H. Johnson, for whom the Veterans Administration Hospital is named, who threw himself on a grenade to save two of his comrades. PFC Johnson was only 19 years old. The Navy has also recognized PFC Johnson’s heroism by naming a ship after him.

He attended Simonton and Courtenay Middle Schools. He is also buried in the National Cemetery, Beaufort, SC, along with so many courageous men and women.

I have a new found respect for what our servicemen and women do each day to keep this country safe.

Today, I salute our men and women in the military for all that you do.

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