Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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May 23, 2014

Memorial Day is not just a day to take off work

Athens — It’s one of those days that are unique.  It’s unique because few  human beings after Jesus Christ offered to gave everything, so that we may live.

That’s what veterans who fought in our wars for us, and died in their attempts to protect us, actually did.

Memorial Day is a U.S. federal holiday, wherein the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces are remembered. The holiday, which is celebrated every year on the final Monday of May, was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th Century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.

It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.

So, how can we thank them?  There is no appropriate way, in so far as giving thanks that comes nowhere close to that of what they gave.

Every Memorial Day, and on many other days as well, I think of my Uncle Harold Turner.  He was the only male sibling in my mother’s family.

Like many, many young men during World War II, he was eager to help in the war effort, and to serve his country to keep  the U.S. and its citizens from becoming property of the Germans or the Japanese or any other country.

As a result of his patriotism, and need to serve, he was flying in the Army Air Corps over France when his plane was shot down.

He and his entire crew were killed.  Their bodies were recovered, and their families were notified.

I remember the story of how my grandmother, who was divorced from my grandfather, had to face the horror of losing a son alone. Yes, Harold’s three teenaged sisters were there, but my grandmother had to comfort them, as well.

The marked government motor vehicle carrying those bringing the news came to her house, and immediately, she knew, before they ever got through the yard, that her son would forever be gone from this earth.

The girls knew it also, but were ready to wait for the final news, before they would believe that his death was the actual truth.

My mother told me that her mother sat by herself constantly.  Mother believed she might be praying, perhaps just crying her eyes out in disbelief that anything this awful could happen in her life.

When it came to bringing Harold’s remains back to the states, my grandmother was negative to that.  The only way he could be identified was by what he had in his shirt pocket that was his.  My grandmother said those items could have been borrowed by another crewmember, so she didn’t want to do that.

Instead, he was buried in a U.S. Memorial Cemetery in a city near Nice, France.

In 1989, my wife Jean and I went to that site, and we became the first in the family to view the grave of Harold Turner.

I had mixed feelings.  It was a sad moment, yet it was a warm moment.  I was especially honored just being around hundreds of men and women who had given their lives, so that I could be the American I wanted to be today.

This Memorial Day, make that your goal.  Don’t just take it as a day off, but as a time to honor those who gave everything so that you could be free, and that you could live the life that the deceased veterans could not continue as a result of their unlimited generosity.

Jeff Riggs is Associate Editor of the Athens Daily Review.


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