More than names on a wall

One day last week, local citizens Jen Woodland and Jack Powell came to the Commissioners’ Office and presented the commissioners with an extraordinary gift.

We watched as Jen and Jack carefully unwrapped a framed photo of the men and women, some of our local military veterans and heroes, who traveled to Washington, D.C. on Honor Flights from Clinton County within the last couple of years.

The commissioners are fortunate to receive many honors during the year, but this particular presentation captured my soul. These men and women had fought in Europe and Japan during World War II, scaled the frozen mountains of Korea, patrolled the jungles of Vietnam, and traversed the sands of the Middle East in wars far away.

Fortunately, not all of them had to go to war. The picture included those who served our country during peacetime, helping to keep us safe. Such is the slogan, “Sleep well tonight your National Guard is awake!” They were awake night after night, and thanks to them, we did sleep well.

The people in the photo came from all walks of life, from different times in history, but they shared several fundamental qualities. They possessed courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty, and integrity – all the qualities needed to serve a cause greater than one’s self.

Most people don’t go to war because they love fighting. They don’t want to leave their families, who worry endlessly about them, their friends from high school, or their relatives who missed them at family gatherings.

They responded to the nation’s call because they wanted to protect a country that had given us so much.

This week my wife, Brenda, and I traveled to Washington, D.C. We visited the World War II and Vietnam Veterans memorials, as well as Arlington Cemetery as the members of the Honor Flights had done some months before.

The World War II Memorial starts at the beginning — the scenes start with soon-to-be servicemen getting physical exams, taking the oath, and being issued military gear. They progress through several scenes including combat and burying the dead, ending in a homecoming scene.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is significant to me. Several of my friends died fighting during the Vietnam War. I took the opportunity to find their names on the wall, denoted by a diamond.

Corporal Larry Faulkner was four or five years older than me. Long ago, we played drums together in the Port William Band, and played ball at the old baseball diamond at the high school just across the fence from Beam’s Mill.

Larry was killed in action with six other Marines on May 17, 1968. His mother never fully recovered emotionally from his death. I often think of her when I hear the song familiar strains of the song, “More Than A Name On A Wall.”

I can imagine her painfully saying those words, “Lord, my boy was special, and he meant so much to me, and oh, I’d love to see him just one more time, you see.”

Former Wilmington classmates of mine, Bobby Shrack and Ralph Livesay, also went to war. They were 20 years old and 19 years old, respectively, when they were killed.

Brenda and I put our hands on the wall, touching their names. And they touched us.

On our way out we walked past the statutes of The Three Servicemen, standing guard over those we love and respect so well.

We only need to talk to Mrs. Faulkner, Mrs. Livesay or Mrs. Shrack, whose family members gave of their lives; or to the men and women in the Honor Flight picture who served valiantly during the wars to understand the supreme sacrifices made for us.

We sincerely appreciate Jen and Jack for bringing us the Honor Flight picture. Those men and women can take a great deal of pride and satisfaction knowing they served their country well.

When we’re young, we think we will never get old; however, the years pass very quickly. Things we’ve done earlier in life, and our memories, become more meaningful us.

As actor Mel Gibson recounted in the movie Braveheart, “Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live, at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”

When we are long gone, and future generations walk past the Honor Flight picture in the Clinton County Courthouse, they will see a sacred reminder that those we honor now continue to reach through time and touch us.

And where we feel this touch — here, upon our hearts — is a special place reserved forever in their honor.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.

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Pat Haley

Contributing columnist