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June 13, 2001
Breaking the law is breaking the law
By Virgil Adams
The Jackson Herald
June 13, 2001
A memorable Memorial Day
I have no idea when Memorial Day became a national holiday. Being an old World War II veteran, I guess I've lived through all of them. But I've never felt so remembered, recognized, honored - and humbled - as I was on May 25, 2001.
I suspect over 100 other old soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and coast guardsmen felt the same way.
Listen to this:
"On this Memorial Day weekend let us recognize and honor all our service men and women who have served our nation at home and abroad, and especially those of our World War II generation."
It gets better:
"Our nation owes a tremendous debt to the group of men and women Tom Brokaw called 'The Greatest Generation'- those who served our nation both on the battlefields and in the factories during World War II. This is the group about whom Winston Churchill spoke, 'Never have so many owed so much to so few.' These Americans (from 1939 to 1945) were the manpower and womanpower that saved the world."
There is more:
"We, as your sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, great-grandsons and great-granddaughters, friends and neighbors, wish to express our appreciation and say 'Thank You' for the unbelievable magnitude of the accomplishments and sacrifices you made. We acknowledge that the luxuries we enjoy in this great nation are available to us because of you."
Most of us who sat in the bright sun on the track at Panther Stadium that day swelled with pride - and perhaps felt a twinge of guilt - as the Jackson County school superintendent spoke those words.
I heard more than one old "hero" say something like "We just did our job."
We turned the page of the program and came face to face - OK, heart to heart - with the real heroes, the 116 Jackson Countians who died doing their job: 20 in World War I, 77 in World War II, 10 in the Korean War and nine in the Vietnam War.
As JCCHS teacher and Vietnam veteran Dana Richier called their names, and ROTC students placed American flags on crosses and band member Valerie Worley played Taps, there were not many dry eyes in the stadium.
For those of us who survived the hell of war, and on behalf of the 116 who were there in spirit, we accept your thanks, Jackson County Board of Education, for a most memorable Memorial Day.
To Andy Byers, himself a Vietnam veteran, and to board members Kathy Wilbanks, Jill Elliott, Stephanie Kitchen, Tim Brooks and Ed Tolbert, we owe you a debt of gratitude for reminding us that America cares and is still beautiful.
To band director Miles Adams, chorus director Todd Chandler, Col. Tom Taylor and Sgt. Sam Thompson of the ROTC, John Rudio of the Civil Air Patrol cadets, master of ceremonies Richier, secretary Amanda Hewell and to all the administrators, teachers and staff at JCCHS, thanks for making us feel important.
Now, let's cut to the chase. So Tom Brokaw called us old codgers "The Greatest Generation." And maybe we were - in the late 1930s and early '40s. But generation follows generation, and this old man believes the greatest generation is yet to be. If I didn't believe that, I'd be in favor of turning out the lights - right now.
Why do I believe we ain't seen nothing yet?
There were over 400 high school students on the football field that May day, playing their instruments, singing their songs, doing their drills - all with disciplined, military precision. They were attentive, sharp, graceful, proud - as they did their jobs. Much like the old soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and coast guardsmen who did their jobs six decades ago and were now watching their young replacements.
After the formal program ended, the young men and women were friendly, courteous, articulate, respectful.
I couldn't help but think of the generation that preceded them: their parents, and how encouraging and supportive they have been through the pre-teen and teenage years.
Grandparents and great-grandparents were there, too, some of them sitting in the sun on the track at Panther Stadium, being recognized as "The Greatest Generation," wanting more than anything in the world to pass on that greatness.
All of the people who filled the stadium that day - from little babies to old soldiers who never die - that's why I believe America's greatest generation will always be on the horizon.
And then there is one personal reason. This young man, an unknown soldier (to me, anyway), strong and handsome in his ROTC uniform, marched briskly to my side, turned and faced me, hung an undeserved achievement medal around my neck, looked me straight in the eye, shook my hand, said "thank you," and saluted me as crisply as any soldier I met in World War II.
I was proud and honored to return his salute. Thank you, young man, and thanks to all your comrades, for making Memorial Day 2001 so memorable.
Virgil Adams is a former owner and editor of The Jackson Herald.
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