A Day Brings Deep Meaning

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Americans have always answered the call to arms, beginning with the fight for freedom by 13 colonies on home soil after 1776.

The nation's fervor for freedom has never paled, not against the strong push of Nazi Germany's Third Reich or the suicide forces of al-Qaida in the Mideast. Americans have always been willing to give their all for the protection of home and family, for the preservation of freedom.

But war has it costs, and no one knows that better than the men and women in the Armed Forces who have seen it first hand. They are the people who left the safety of their homes to stop an enemy thousands of miles away.

Many of them never made it back, and to those who fought alongside them, the ones who returned, today, Memorial Day, has a deeper meaning.

Army Lt. Col. Buck Bennett, who serves with the 48th Infantry Brigade, remembers the casualties from his battalion while supporting the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.

When observing Memorial Day, he remembers a ramp ceremony captured in a photograph of Sgt. Victor Anderson's casket draped with an America flag surrounded by Anderson's fellow soldiers kneeling beside it.

That was the only funeral and time of grieving the soldiers could have because they immediately had to return to the work they were called to accomplish.

"This was the only way we could say goodbye," Bennett recalled.

Courage to Bennett was watching those same grieving soldiers go back to the same location where their comrade just fell to make sure the area was safe for civilians.

Bennett and his fellow soldiers held ramp ceremonies for the 28 fallen heroes from their brigade during the time he was in Iraq.

Not only does he remember the servicemen who gave their lives to protect freedom, but he also remembers the families who will never see their loved ones again.

He and his wife, Joni, try to keep in contact with the wives of fallen soldiers. They routinely get e-mails from Victor Anderson's wife about their son going into Cub Scouts.

"Before I went (to Iraq), Memorial Day was just another day to go barbecuing," Bennett said. "But when you come back, things like the national anthem make you cry."

The memories of Marine Cpl. Marion Moore harken back to a different time, to a different war. Memorial Day for this Vietnam veteran brings back the memory of Dec. 21, 1967, the day his close friend, Richard McHam, was killed.

McHam was a Navy corpsman attached to Moore's rifle company, which was guarding a highly contested bridge in Namo, between DaNang and the Hai Van Pass. McHam and two Marines were killed when a squad-sized patrol turned into an ambush and a deadly fire fight.

"He was one of those guys that's going to do a little bit extra," Moore said of McHam. "If someone had a heat stroke he's going to carry their gear."

McHam wasn't even supposed to be there that fateful day. He had taken the patrol of another corpsman who needed to write a letter after receiving bad news from home.

"Only a handful of Americans have ever heard of Namo or of the Namo Bridge or of the fighting that took place there in 1967 to 1968," Moore said. "But the three Americans who died there made the same supreme sacrifice for their country as the Americans who fell at Gettysburg, Belleau Wood or on Omaha Beach.

"On Memorial Day we honor those who gave their lives. We won't forget them."

Ruth Conine, an operating room nurse since graduating from nursing school at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1990. It had been a dream of hers since high school.

"They had upped the age for OR nurses and I was 45 years old at the time," Conine said.

After speaking with a nurse recruiter, she joined the 345th Combat Support Hospital out of Jacksonville and was later transferred to the 109th Evac Hospital out of Birmingham. The unit was sent to a Saudi Arabia field hospital for four months during the first Gulf War. "Once the ground war started we were ready for the casualties," she said.

The time spent there gave her a new perspective on the sacrifices made by those in the defense of freedom. Every year she and her husband, Jim, also an Army veteran, attend the Memorial Day observance at the old Glynn County Courthouse.

"I just feel so moved by their ultimate sacrifice," she said. "We owe so much to our fallen comrades."

Remember

Two memorial services are planned today. The first will be at 10:30 a.m. at the war memorials on the grounds of the old Glynn County Courthouse at 701 G St. The second, Taps at Twilight, will be at 6:45 p.m. in Neptune Park on St. Simons Island.

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